Adolescence and ASD
Adolescence is a difficult period in any person's life. It is a time of great physical, cognitive, and emotional development. In today's society, such changes and growth can be hard to handle for both the adolescent and those who care for them. Because adolescence is such a unique time in human development, it deserves a separate resource section devoted to the even more unique experience of the adolescent with ASD.
Adolescents must learn to deal with an ever increasing complexity of social experiences. The more simplistic nuances of the playground swing sets are exchanged for the endless unwritten rules to dating, friendship, social hierarchies, clothing, hygiene, and even driving. What social skills the child with ASD managed to get by with in earlier grades are suddenly not enough to navigate the junior and senior high school hallways or hangouts. On top of that, the individual who thrives in a routine environment must learn to manage a body that changes by the month and effectively deal with the accompanying emotions. Some adolescents with ASD may need significant help handling the intensity of those emotions.
While adolescence can be a time of complex change and emotion, it is also a time of increased maturity and independence. Families and professionals supporting those with ASD must advocate and encourage such independence as these young men and women transition toward adulthood. Transitioning into adulthood can be intimidating; however, there are resources to help families, professionals, and the individual with ASD navigate the transition successfully!
The Autism Help website has an extensive section on the teen years including information about puberty, sexuality, managing masturbation, and hygiene.
About.com hosts an extensive list of articles regarding teens and ASD, including topics on sexuality, fostering independence, puberty, transition, careers, college, and more.
Autism After 16 is a new website for individuals with ASD and the families and professionals who support them. It includes extensive information about transition, postsecondary life, employment, housing, finance, health, and more. Autism After 16 also has a webpage designed specifically for those living in Virginia. The Virginia Roadmap includes a four step process with links and various resources for the transitioning adolescent with ASD.
VCU ASD Career Links is a collaborative initiative between VCU and the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS). The primary target population for this research is individuals with ASD, with an emphasis on youth and young adults.
Project SEARCH provides employability skills training and workplace internships for individuals with significant disabilities, particularly youth transitioning from high school to adult life. Project SEARCH originated at Cincinnati Children's and now has program sites throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, including several sites in VA.
The VCU-RRTC is currently involved in a Research Study using the Project SEARCH model in an exclusive program for students with autism. More information can be found on the VCU-ACE website on "A Collaborative Public/Private Employment Training and Placement Model for Transition Age Youth with ASD."
The DriveAdvise project, sponsored by a community grant from Autism Speaks, is developing a toolkit and an educational video to help an individual with ASD make decisions about driving. The project is currently in development.
Some adolescents with ASD may need significant help handling the intensity of their emotions during adolescence and may also face depression and thoughts of suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For those that need immediate help, please call 1-800-273-8255.
The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA) is a research and development project funded by the U.S. Department of Education that focused on developing, adapting, and studying a comprehensive school- and community-based education program for high school students on the autism spectrum. This project is a five-year project that brings together experts in autism, secondary education, adolescence, and implementation to work in collaboration with schools, families, adolescents with ASD, and community members.
Guides and Factsheets
The Virginia Department of Education has developed a document on transition, "Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Transition to Adulthood," that includes important information on transition assessment and planning, adult services, postsecondary education, employment, home living skills, and Social Security and benefits planning.
OCALI has a series of guides on transition to adulthood including age appropriate assessment, employment, IEP transition information, and school age programming.
Autism Speaks has a transition toolkit available that covers the topics of self-advocacy, transition plans, community living, employment options, housing, legal matters, and more. The Transition Toolkit was created to serve as a guide to assist families on the journey from adolescence to adulthood.
The Autism Society has developed a "Preparing to Experience College Living" factsheet that includes tips on learning to live independently and developing academic and social skills.
Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals was written by Scott Standifer Ph.D. at the University of Missouri in 2009.
Barbara Bissonnette, Principal of Forward Motion, has written several guides on employment that can be downloaded at no charge from the Forward Motion Website. Topics include getting hired, workplace disclosure, and an employer's guide to Asperger's Syndrome.
Autism Victoria in Australia has published an information sheet on "Puberty and Autism Spectrum Disorders."
Videos and Training
The Social Group II (2012) is a documentary / thesis project about a group of teenagers with high functioning autism who have been meeting every Friday for the past 10 years.
Project SEARCH has posted a video on the origin of the project at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
NPR has posted a story on careers for people with ASD, "Young Adults with Autism can Thrive in High-Tech Jobs (April 22, 2013).
YouTube has published Part 1 of 3 videos on "Living with Asperger's" (February 23, 2013).
Articles and Research
Gentry, T., Wallace, J., Kvarfordt, C. & Lynch, K. (2010). Personal digital assistants as cognitive aids for high school students with autism: Results of a community-based trial. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 101-107.
McDonough, J. & Revell, G. (2010). Accessing employment supports in the adult system for transitioning youth with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 89-100.
Schall, C. & McDonough, J. (2010). Autism spectrum disorders in adolescence and early adulthood: Characteristics and issues. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 32(2), 81-88.
Schall, C., Wehman, P. & McDonough, J. (2012). Transition from school to work for students with ASD; Understanding the process and achieving better outcomes. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 29(1), 189-202.
Taylor, J. & Seltzer, M. (2011). Employment and Post-Secondary Educational Activities for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders During the Transition to Adulthood. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41, 566-574.
Wehman, P. (2012). Transition from School to Work: Where are we and where do we need to go? Career Development for Exceptional Individuals.
Wehman, P., Schall, C., McDonough, J., Molinelli, A., Riehle, E., Ham, W. & Thiss, W. (2012). Project SEARCH for Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Increasing Competitive Employment On Transition from High School. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.
DRS News Release (May 15, 2012), 'Project SEARCH' Students Graduate with New Job Skills.
VDOE TTAC at VCU Newsletter (January 18, 2011) article "Project SEARCH Improves Employment Outcomes"
Adolescents and adults with autism: A study of family caregiving, a current project by the Waisman Center, examines the lives of adolescents and adults with ASD and includes over 400 families who live in Wisconsin and Massachusetts. While the study is not yet complete, some family reports are available now.
The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) featured an article by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke, "Social Communication Strategies for Adolescents with Autism" (January 18, 2011) that includes social thinking strategies and four critical steps to successful communication.
Kathie Harrington, M.A. C.C.C. SLP, has written an article, "Teaching the Person with Autism How to Drive" that includes a set of skill resources needed including vocabulary, sequencing, rote memory, and more.