Archived News: Across Virginia
July 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. 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.