July 13, 2015

Success Beyond the Classroom: ASD and Adulthood

As Dr. Paul Wehman frequently says, “Those cute little kids with ASD quickly grow up into adolescents, and then into adults. We have to do more work to figure out how to best support those adults with ASD live in their community, work in real jobs, and have their own lives.” Despite having over 20 years of research on excellent early intervention and educational methodology, our understanding of how best to support adults with ASD still lags behind. It also appears, despite the tremendous gains young children with ASD make; those gains are not necessarily realized in adulthood with independent living, community-based employment, or a rich community of friendships. Nevertheless, we at VCU are researching ways to help adults, especially in employment.

For example, we have found that participating in Project SEARCH plus ASD Supports, a trial that tests the effectiveness of the transition to employment treatment model, increases employment, independence at work, and decreases the length of job searching upon graduation significantly when compared to individuals who seek job coaching and employment supports after graduation (Schall, et al, 2015, Wehman, et al., 2014). Our research in the area of employment supports continues. We are also developing assessments that help teams make sound plans for helping young adults achieve greater independence. Finally, there is recent research indicating individuals with ASD who have higher levels of independence in adaptive (daily living skills) behavior fare better than their peers with lower levels of adaptive behavior regardless of severity of communication or impact of intellectual disabilities (Klinger, Klinger, Mussey, Thomas, & Powell, 2015). In other words, we are learning that one way to improve outcomes for young adults with ASD is to ensure that they master and generalize daily living.

Moving forward, we know young adults with ASD continue to have support needs, but the way in which they access supports to meet those needs varies greatly. Secondly, we know the various agencies that provide adult supports have different eligibility criteria and waiting lists that may delay or deny a person getting needed services. Thirdly, we know families frequently have difficulty understanding the myriad of agencies and the roles they play in creating comprehensive supports for adults with ASD. Finally, we know that some services, such as behavioral consultation or direct speech therapy, are difficult to access for adults with ASD. For the most part, adult services are not entitlement-based. Instead, a person with ASD must meet a particular organization’s prerequisite criterion to be eligible for services. Different laws and/or policies govern each of these programs. In addition, there is no one agency that acts as a single point of contact for overall service coordination. Therefore, a critical part of meeting the needs of adults with ASD involves connecting each individual with ASD with the appropriate adult services. This requires developing a good understanding of these programs as well as establishing and maintaining an ongoing working relationship across all agencies and team members.

The table below presents a list and description of the major state agencies that can help adults with disabilities, including ASD, in Virginia.

State or Local Agency General Services Provided Website

Department of
Rehabilitative Services

Employment planning and access to funding for employment services and supports


Employment Services
Organizations (ESO)
Independent organizations who
provide a variety of direct supports
and services to individuals with
disabilities seeking employment or


for list

One-Stop Centers Centers available to anyone in the community seeking employment, including individuals with ASD and other disabilities. Provides an array of services including vocational training and job placement services http://www.elevatevirginia.org/
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) This state agency is the agency responsible for providing leadership and guildance to community public and private agencies that provide services to individuals with behavioral and developmental disabilities http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/
Community Services Boards (CSBs) and Community Behavioral Health Authorities (BHAs) Local community agencies charged with providing case management, and distribution of local, state, and federal funds for services to individuals with developmental disabilities and mental health disabilities. Many CSBs and BHAs also provide direct services in employment and housing for invidividuals with behavioral and developmental disabilities. Some individuals with ASD are eligible for services based on their additional diagnoses and needs. For a list of CSBs and BHAs see: http://www.dbhds.virginia.gov/
Centers for Independent Living Centers for Independent Living, often referred to as "CILs" are non-residential places of action and coalition, where persons with disabilities learn empowerment and develop the skills necessary to make lifestyle choices. Centers provide services and advocacy to promote the leadership, independence, and productivity of people with disabilities. Centers work with both individuals as well as with the local communities to remove barriers to independence and ensuring equality of persons with disabilities.

For a listing of CILs see:

Most importantly, adults with ASD and their support systems should access as many services as necessary to live, work, and interact in their home communities.

Check Out Our Vast Array of Resources for Adults with Autism

We know that upon graduation from the public school system, many adults with ASD are left in limbo. Different services and supports are needed as they try to find a new routine in new environments, new homes, and new situations. The world of ASD and adulthood is changing though. Where before the only options focused on sheltered workshops and group homes, now we are seeing more and more employment and living opportunities for the adult with ASD. The VCU-ACE Adults with ASD Resource Page contains information about transitioning from the school system, transitioning into college or work, facilitating independence, and finding appropriate support. This information comes in the form of websites, guides and fact sheets, videos and trainings and journal articles.

In addition to those resources, we have created a number of webcasts on the adult experience with autism. Some helpful webcasts include:

Asperger's Syndrome and Employment
A Successful Employment Experience for Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome: What It Takes
Supporting Adults with ASD in the Workplace Using Behavior Supports
Asperger's Syndrome and the Transition to Adulthood: Conditions for Success
Employees with ASD: Tips for Educating Employers and Colleagues

We hope these resources will prove helpful to you as you focus your understanding on adults with autism!

Navigating the Social Highway

Check out our latest webcast tomorrow, July 14 at 3:30 pm. The webcast, entitled Navigating the Social Highway: A Road Map of Social Skills Programming for ASD will be presented by Wendy Clayton and Teresa Crowson. Within the text of the Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM-5, the word “social” appears TEN times; indicating that social skills are, inherently, a significant area of need for students with ASD. Learning to navigate social situations not only helps them understand their world, but also impacts a student’s ability to gain benefit from academics. Our students, more often than not, find themselves alone during recess and lunch times, verbally interact less with peers, have fewer opportunities to relate to peers throughout the day, and have difficulty assigning meaning to academic tasks. These factors substantiate the paramount importance of social skills instruction with our students. This webinar will highlight the journey of one public school division while guiding participants through the steps necessary to begin social skills programming within their division, school, or classroom. Topics will include determining the appropriate instruments for data collection, curricular resources, and professional development interventions in order to arrive at desired outcomes for social skills instruction.

CoLA Summer Institute - A Big Success!

Thank you to all who attended and presented at the CoLA Summer Institute! We were fortunate to have two excellent keynote presentations. The opening address was by Dr. Staci Carr on “Quality of Life in Emerging Adults with ASD” and a closing keynote by Dr. David Pitonyak on “The Importance of Belonging.” We would like to recognize all of the divisions who participated in the Poster Session Presentation, they get better each year. The award for Impact went to Evidence-Based Practice Used Successfully in an Inclusion Classroom – presented by Trish Momtsios from Chesapeake County Public Schools and the award for Innovation went to Developing Structured Social Skills Programming in your Classroom or Division – presented by Wendy Clayton. We will be posting a list of all of the poster sessions on the Statewide CoLA Schoology site. Planning for next years conference is underway. Look for updates throughout the year.