Life is a journey everyone travels. As we develop from babies to children, children to adolescents, and adolescents to adults, there is no more perilous stage of development than becoming an adult. The question is “why” is this one particular stage more treacherous than the many other transitions involved in “growing up”?
Considering the attainment of adulthood is even more complex for individuals with autism. The condition of autism can impact the development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills, and independent functioning, which would have a pervasive impact on adult performance. As a parent, educator, administrator, and advocate, I consider the challenge in planning for adults with autism as the perception that the safety net will be abruptly removed when they meet the label of adulthood. In exploring the concept of educational transition planning, use the visceral image of that safety net as a guide for a “living” journey that meets each individual at his or her own level of need. Transitions are often difficult for people on the autism spectrum and their families.
People with ASD usually rely on routines to navigate social situations and a sudden change in schedule or lifestyle can be very disruptive for them. Transition planning should create a purposeful mindful approach to the preparation for adult living; thereby resulting in a reduction of the stress experienced by the young people who will depend on appropriate educational skill development to reach adulthood equipped for the challenges that will face them.
To execute a plan, begin at the beginning. For young people with autism, thinking about the goals for adulthood can emerge early in their growth. Whether it’s individual preferences, strengths, or even their hypervigilance, often a characteristic of autism, tap into those areas of interest resulting in heightened levels of engagement and ultimately into greater levels of success. Educators and parents must pursue long-term planning throughout their child’s educational services to harness the most challenging aspect of supporting young people with autism, time.
Young people with autism may require longer time periods to learn the skills to be successful adults, but advanced planning can mitigate that challenge to the individual’s advantage. Neurotypical children are often described in relation to individuals with autism, but using a young person with autism’s proclivity for a specific topic or subject area can bridge what might otherwise be seen as a weakness. Taking an area of interest to focus on skill development can be the roadmap for the journey toward success.
With an identified focus for a long-range plan, remember to look in the rearview mirror and develop a backward chain of skill attainment. A long time ago, one of my daughters
expressed an interest to sweep the hair in a beauty salon. Ultimately, her interests took her in a different direction, but as a parent and educator, transition planning benefits from the purposeful inclusion of specialized interests. In the personal example, I’ve used to highlight this consideration, a backward chain could encompass the fine motor skill of
grasping a broom handle, the visual perception of a cleaned expanse of floor, the steps involved in completing a multi-step task, and the identification of the completion of an
assigned task. Within the scope and sequence of preparing for work in a beauty salon, EDUCATIONAL ADVOCACY would be many sub-skills, such as but not limited to following directions, social interactions with unfamiliar people, and adherence to defined behavioral performance.
By incorporating future planning into the sequence of instruction across educational services, young people with autism are provided with a larger span of time, supports throughout their development with a focus on areas of interest, and most importantly, with real-life authentic learning activities, generalization occurs to support the
expectations that adulthood will present to them. All of us spend the majority of our lifespan classified as adults, so the importance of planning cannot be underestimated. Connecting to those qualities within us that provide us with fulfillment can be the key to our future success. As we work to support the achievement of skill development for young people with autism, celebrate them as individuals; incorporate their interests to facilitate engagement, and use time in a purposeful manner to prepare for the future.
Pepi M. Silverman, M.S. Ed., Ph.D. (ABD)
Director, Bridge Educational Advocacy
Educational Advocate, Consultant, and Inclusion Specialist
Learning Behavior Specialist and Administrator
Bridge Educational Advocacy is full-service educational advocacy and consulting firm whose focus is on working on behalf of students and families to ensure that ALL learners receive the educational support necessary for them to benefit from their instructional services. Educational Advocacy gives a voice to students and their families when concerns and interests are not being heard. Working in partnership between home and school will provide meaningful outcomes for students, which is a central goal of Bridge Educational Advocacy.