May 10, 2017

Roadmap to Independence -- Late High School

Active planning for life after high school should begin during the middle school years. As students move into their high school years a new emphasis is given to post secondary education and career planning. Yet, all too often students with ASD exclude themselves from pursuing similar avenues as their high school peers.

We know from research that despite their ability to achieve, individuals with ASD are less likely to investigate secondary education options. As Josh Taylor states in our most recent Ask the Expert on Preparing for College, “A recent study in 2015 found that only about 36% of students with autism who graduate from high school even enter any college or technical training of any kind. And that’s about evenly split between academic programs and more vocational oriented programs.” Preparing students with ASD for life beyond high school, including college or technical training, starts with considering their strengths and interests, taking the appropriate classes, examining disability services in potential post-secondary institutions, and preparing for increased coursework in any college or technical training program. However, preparing for life after high school also includes raising our expectations of students with ASD. Josh also states that, “…There’s a lot of studies that show that the expectations we have as teachers [and] parents…really translate into predicting enrollment and success in college down the road.” To hear more, click here:

However, for students with ASD, life beyond high school isn’t just about picking a future major or trade the student is interested in pursuing. There are many considerations that include the basics like daily living skills, but also more complex skills like navigating the community and paid work experiences!

Daily living skills

Most parents and caregivers are waking their children up for school, making breakfasts, packing a lunch, helping children get dressed and ready, and then sending them off to school. As children get older though, many parents step back and encourage their children to set an alarm clock, pick out their own clothes, get ready, prepare their own breakfast, make decisions about lunch, and choose how they’ll spend their time after school managing homework and social needs. Essentially, these students are preparing for life after high school! While students with ASD may require more support for longer periods of time, now is the time to teach these independent living skills! Understanding how to set an alarm clock and get out of bed independently is a great first step. But it doesn’t stop there! Independently going through the steps of showering, brushing teeth, and other hygiene routines are critical skills ALL individuals with ASD will need regardless of their abilities or paths in life. Students this age also need practice independently choosing appropriate clothing, making toast and a bowl of cereal, and learning to manage time so they are out the door on schedule. But daily living skills aren’t just skills we use in the morning, we use these adaptive skills all day long! Skills for independent living also include such activities as learning how to do laundry, going shopping for needed items, ordering food at a restaurant, and knowing when to go to bed.

In a webcast from the Center on Transition Innovation at VCU, Chris Filler, the OCALI Program Director of the Lifespan Transition Center adds, “…there are many people that have to do a lot of direct support, many families that do a lot of direct support for their son or daughter...They may pick out clothes, do shower, do a lot of things, and that is the reality. And that's okay. But then when you put on that lens of adulthood, what that person really wants to be is an adult who can say, I can do my own shower, my own routine, and I actually look and smell good at the end so the lens of adulthood says we've got a GAP and we need to work on it…”

Further, as Staci Carr, Ph.D, Coordinator for Technical Assistance at VCU-ACE, states in our newest Ask the Expert on independent living, “[It means] being able to be accountable for your own well-being. And so things like choice making and problem solving are extremely important and those are the skills that we really should be working on in elementary school and preschool, but in high school, that’s absolutely the time to really hone in on those skills… Problem solving really helps a student navigate their independent life, as far as managing their medication, making choices about their food, their clothing, about their job, about friendships, about relationships, and being able to know what to do if something comes awry, so if there’s no peanut butter in the house, and you make peanut butter toast every morning for breakfast, what are you going to do? Are you going to not go into work that day, or are you going to decide to have something else?”

To watch more from Chris Filler about transitioning into adulthood, click here:

To watch more from Staci Carr about preparing for independent living, click here:

Navigating the community

Most students who are transitioning to later high school years have started driving and are often driving themselves to and from school, to a friend’s house, and are starting to run errands independently. Many students with ASD may not be driving yet or may not be able to drive. Being able to navigate the community is critical for students with ASD. No matter if a student will use public transportation, walking, biking, driving, or utilize more assisted forms of traveling through the community, students with ASD will need to know basic skills such as map reading, using apps for navigation, safety skills, rules of the road, understanding bus and train schedules, telling time, understanding how much a ticket costs, how to make change and more. It’s not just a matter of whether or not to pursue a driver’s license! Helping students understand HOW to navigate their communities is a critical step towards independence! If travel training isn’t a part of your transition plan, now is the time to address it!

To learn more about travel instruction and resources for youth with ASD, check out The Kennedy Center’s A Chance to Ride curriculum!

Paid work experiences

When most people think of high school, they tend to focus on the classes a student might take or what they’ll participate in after school. After all, high school provides many opportunities for pursuing interests in class and after school! However, we tend to forget about the importance of paid work experiences for adolescents, especially students with ASD!

Unemployment rates for individuals with ASD remain incredibly high. It’s critical that educators, families, and students with ASD move beyond just looking for a typical high school job. Successful job matches start with assessing skills, abilities, interests, communication preferences, social and behavioral challenges and more. Yet, assessment isn’t the end of the process! Students with ASD will need the social communication skills necessary for job interviews, have the necessary flexibility to handle challenges, be able to prioritize and complete tasks, and even take criticism and feedback from others. Preparing for and success in finding and maintaining paid work experiences can be a complicated process that requires the support from many individuals. Yet with the right support, employment IS possible!

Project SEARCH Plus Autism Supports is a successful employment training program designed to help youth with ASD find meaningful jobs. Results from the latest Project Search study show that “nearly everyone who received the job training was able to find and maintain employment after finishing school and saw increased hours and wages over time while those who did not participate struggled to find work and, when they did, earned less than a dollar per hour on average.”

To learn more specifics about Project Search Plus Autism Supports, click here:

While Project SEARCH is not available everywhere, the following webcast provides more information on the principles of the program:

Want to learn more?

Check out these great resources on the VCU RRTC website for more information about successfully navigating the transition from high school to adulthood!

Don't Forget!!!

Don’t forget!

This month’s webcast on June 13th at 3:30pm is with Cyndi Pitonyak as she continues to discuss inclusion in the second presentation of Inclusion: How do we make it meaningful? This webcast will continue to address expanding the concept of inclusion beyond just physical presence in a general education classroom. To be successful, inclusive special education services must address social interactions, relationships, and meaningful participation and progress in both the general curriculum and IEP goals. Two new tools will be introduced: one for addressing functional skills instruction within the inclusive setting (Functional Skills for a Self Determined Future) and one for integrating instruction in Virginia Aligned Standards of Learning (for students on VAAP assessment) into general curriculum academic instruction (Planning Chart for ASOL Instruction). Register here: