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Adolescents 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 Going-to-College website contains information about living college life with a disability. It's designed for high school students and provides video clips, activities, and additional resources that can help students get a head start in planning for college.

ACE-IT in College is a collaborative effort between the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center and the Partnership for People with Disabilities in the VCU School of Education. ACE-IT in College provides an inclusive, on campus, college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities. The main outcome of the program is competitive employment in an area of interest for students, which is developed through VCU coursework, internships, and employment.

The Autism Help website has an extensive section on the teen years including information about puberty, sexuality, managing masturbation, and hygiene. 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 Virginia.

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 Disorder (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 Fact Sheets

The challenges associated with the transition from school services to adulthood for individuals with autism are well documented. Every individual with autism is different and as a result, there is no "one size fits all" plan for the path to adulthood.The assessment uses both a criterion-based observation and interview-based process to measure the individual's knowledge, skills and behaviors. Click here to download the Community Based Skills Assessment!

A presentation of the preliminary results of a randomized clinical trial of Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports on the employment outcomes for youth with ASD between the ages of 18 to 21 years of age provides compelling evidence that employment upon graduation from high school is achievable for youth with ASD who also display challenging behavior and have co-morbid medical diagnoses.

The Virginia Department of Education has developed a document on transition, "Autism Spectrum Disorder 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 developed two tools to help adolescents in their transition to adulthood. The Transition Toolkit was created to serve as a guide to assist families on this journey and covers the topics of self-advocacy, transition plans, community living, employment options, housing, legal matters, and more. The Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide is designed to help individuals with ASD and their families explore the different opportunities and learning environments after leaving school.

The Autism Society has developed a "Preparing to Experience College Living" fact sheet 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 Disorder."

Videos and Training

ACE offers a variety of videos and trainings to meet the needs of both family members and professionals. Click here to learn more!

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).

The Autistic Global Initiative (AGI) of the Autism Research Institute and a team of 15 curriculum experts from across the United States have developed an online course designed for those who support individuals with autism and related disabilities in daily living and residential settings. The AGI Residential/Daily Living Support Course provides parents, siblings, family members, in-home support workers, agency support providers, and volunteers from the community the foundational knowledge, competencies, and tools necessary to support the daily living needs of transition aged students, young adults, and adults with ASD.

Articles and Research

Hughes, C. (2013). A peer-delivered social interaction intervention for high school students with autism. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 38(1), 1-16.

Rossetti, Z.S. (2011). "That's How We Do It": Friendship work between high school students with and without autism or developmental disability. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36(1), 23-33.

Schall, C. & McDonough, J. (2010). Autism Spectrum Disorder 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.

Wehman, P., Schall, C., McDonough, J., Molinelli, A., Riehle, E., Ham, W. & Thiss, W. (2012). Project SEARCH for Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Increasing Competitive Employment On Transition from High School. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(3), 144-155.


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