Young adults on the autism spectrum sometimes struggle with the transition from high school to post-school activities. Research indicates that people on the spectrum are significantly less likely to be employed or to attend post-school education than those without a diagnosis.
However, recent research by Autism CRC has identified a number of factors that may help young adults on the spectrum to successfully transition from high school into a life after school that is satisfying and enriching.
Transition planning involves a set of coordinated activities that prepare the adolescent on the spectrum for life beyond the school gates and can include work experience, mentoring, volunteering, transition planning team meetings, and exploration of skills, strengths and preferences.
Curtin University (an Autism CRC Essential Participant) recently conducted the Promoting Better Outcomes and Successful Transitions for Autism Study with 162 Australian participants, including 83 parents, 26 adolescents on the spectrum and 53 professionals. The aim of the study was to shine a light on current transition planning practices and gain insight into what approaches might work best for adolescents on the spectrum. We’ve taken the results of that study and developed the following five tips for you to consider. Everybody is different, but these strategies may help you to support your adolescent to successfully transition from high school.
Most young adults in our study indicated they started transition planning in Year 10 or even later, however the majority of participants (including parents, professionals and the young adults themselves) indicated they would have liked transition planning to start earlier. Starting transition planning early allows the adolescent and their support team to get a head start on ensuring they are well prepared for life after school.
Many of the young adults in our study indicated that their anxiety was amplified by tight timeframes and the uncertainty of not knowing what would happen after leaving school. Starting transition planning as soon as possible (ideally no later than Year 9) can help ease this anxiety and uncertainty. It also allows time to organise a range of meaningful work experiences throughout the school years that can help the adolescent to get a better idea of what types of work they want, or more importantly don’t want, in the future.
Allow your young adult to dream big
Don’t limit your adolescent in dreaming about life after school. Parents/carers often worry about their children setting their expectations too high and getting disappointed, but our research found that adolescents were able to achieve steps towards future employment such as attending a job interview or completing a work experience, that their parents and teachers did not think were possible. When you allow your adolescent to dream big and set their own goals, they might just surprise you with what they are capable of achieving.
Yes, everybody has their limits, but if you don’t allow those limits to be tested (in a supportive, appropriate environment), your teen may not get the chance to reach their full potential.
Support your young adult to play a key role in their transition planning team
Having a transition planning team that meets regularly and has a coordinated approach can make a big difference to outcomes for the young person on the spectrum.
The composition of the team will be different for each young person depending on their needs and support network, but our research shows these teams are most effective when the young person is supported to be involved in their team as much as they can.
For some adolescents on the spectrum this may involve actively speaking up in meetings; others may not feel comfortable speaking but might be happy to write out what they want to say ahead of time and have another member of the group share it, or they might even send text messages to the team during the meeting. Support your young adult to identify how they would like to contribute to their team and work with them to make it possible.
Enable your young adult to get ‘real life’ experiences
‘Real life’ experiences, such as volunteering, work experience, life skills training and part-time work are important parts of the transition process for all young people, but particularly so for adolescents on the spectrum. These activities allow young people on the spectrum to understand what life might be like after leaving school, which is valuable because many people on the spectrum have difficulty projecting themselves into the future.
Real life experiences can also assist your adolescent with seeing the big picture and understanding how the transition planning process can assist them to work towards a desirable future. This can increase their motivation to participate in the transition planning process, which in turn increases the likelihood of the process being successful.
Take a strengths-based approach
Focusing on the young adult’s strengths and interests helps to empower and engage them in the transition planning process. The autistic characteristic of special interests, often viewed as a weakness, can be leveraged as a strength in employment and post-school education. When young adults recognise this, it can lead to increased confidence in their post-school future and help to develop a sense of purpose.
Research has also linked taking a strengths-based approach with improved self-determination in adolescents. This may be because it enables the young person to visualise their own personal version of success.
BOOST-A – a transition planning tool
Autism CRC has developed an online autism-specific planning program to support adolescents on the spectrum to prepare for leaving high school. The tool is called Better OutcOmes and Successful Transitions for Autism (BOOST-A) and consists of four modules that adolescents can work through with assistance and input from their support team.
Parents and adolescents involved in a nation-wide trial of the BOOST-A have reported numerous benefits. Some of their comments after using the tool included:
“Now my future seems to be a little bit clearer… I felt pretty scared about it, but now I am less scared than I was before.” [Adolescent]
“Bryan* recently went to his first job interview. If you’d asked me before the BOOST-A, I would have said that’s not going to happen anytime soon. But he did, and he did really well, and it’s like wow!” [Parent]
“It was non-threatening, no right or wrong and it was always about empowering the adolescent and looking at strengths.” [Parent]
Free BOOST-A workshops across the country
Autism CRC will be running free BOOST-A workshops across the country in May 2018 for families of adolescents on the spectrum, teachers and health professionals. The workshops will provide participants with an introduction to the principles for transition planning that underpin the BOOST-A tool; guide them through the stages of transition planning in the BOOST-A; and give them the opportunity to access and use the BOOST-A before, during and after the workshops.
For more information and to register for a workshop in your area, visit the Autism CRC website from mid-April 2018.
Transitioning into leadership
Autism CRC is also running Future Leaders, which is an Australian-first program that aims to empower young adults on the spectrum with leadership potential to develop their strengths and confidence so they can transition into leadership roles within the autistic community. This year’s participants have recently been announced and will begin the program soon.
Opportunities are still available for organisations who wish to sponsor the Future Leaders program and leverage the strengths of neurodiversity and foster inclusive environments, so please get in touch with the team if this is of interest.
For more information, visit: https://www.autismcrc.com.au/future-leaders
Article by Autism CRC