People with autism experience numerous transitions throughout their lifetimes, including from pre-school to kindergarten, elementary to secondary education, and secondary education to adulthood. Some of these transitions are more difficult than others; however, the entrance into adulthood is often considered the most difficult transition of them all.
The period of emerging adulthood after graduation is especially vulnerable for people with autism, who can experience challenges with communication and behavior associated with their developmental disorder, and who may also need to seek specialized services or accommodations while attempting to fulfill their individual postschool goals.
Given the 1) increasing number of people diagnosed with autism each year and 2) the overwhelmingly poor postschool outcomes experienced by this population, researchers, policy makers, and educators have taken a greater interest in understanding which high school experiences—such as paid work or being included in general education—are linked to positive transition outcomes in employment, education, and independent living. Research calls these in-school experiences linked with improved post-school outcomes: “predictors.”
For all students with disabilities, there are 23 predictors that can be linked to getting a job after high school, attending college/university, AND/OR living on one’s own or with roommates:
|Career Awareness||Learning about opportunities, education, and skills needed in various occupational pathways to choose a career that matches one’s strengths and interests.|
|Career Technical Education||A sequence of courses that prepares students for a specific job or career at various levels from trade or craft positions to technical, business, or professional careers|
|Community Experiences||Activities occurring outside of the school setting, supported with in-class instruction, where students apply academic, social, and/or general work behaviors and skills.|
|Exit Exam Requirements/ High School Diploma Status||Exit Exam Requirements are standardized state tests, assessing single content areas (e.g. Algebra, English) or multiple skill areas, with specified levels of proficiency that students must pass in order to obtain a high school diploma. Diploma Status is achieved by completing the requirements of the state awarding the diploma including the completion of necessary core curriculum credits.|
|Goal-Setting||*Goal directed behavior involves actions that enable a person to reach a specified preferred outcome. Teaching goal setting and attainment skills involves teaching students to define and articulate a goal, identify current status in relation to the goal, develop an action plan, and evaluate progress toward achieving the goal (Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998).|
|Inclusion in General Education||Requires students with disabilities to have access to general education curriculum and be engaged in regular education classes with peers without disabilities. Participating in regular classes at least 80% of the time (Mazzotti et al., 2020)|
|Interagency Collaboration||A clear, purposeful, and carefully designed process that promotes cross agency, cross program, and cross disciplinary collaborative efforts leading to tangible transition outcomes for youth.|
|Occupational Courses||Individual courses that support career awareness, allow or enable students to explore various career pathways, develop occupational specific skills through instruction, and experiences focused on their desired employment goals.|
|Paid Employment/ Work Experience||Paid Employment includes existing standard jobs in a company or organization or customized work assignments negotiated with the employer, but these activities always feature competitive pay (e.g., minimum wage) paid directly to the student by the employer. Work Experience is any activity that places the student in an authentic workplace, and could include: work sampling, job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships, and paid employment.|
|Parent Expectations||Parent expectations typically mean having high expectations for their children (Pleet-Odle et al., 2016). Parent expectations include parents and family members planning, articulating an expectation that their child will participate in integrated and inclusive postsecondary education, and be employed in integrated and inclusive settings in the community after high school (Doren, Gau, & Lindstrom, 2012)|
|Parental Involvement||Parents/families/guardians are active and knowledgeable participants in all aspects of transition planning (e.g., decision-making, providing support, attending meetings, and advocating for their child).|
|Program of Study||An individualized set of courses, experiences, and curriculum designed to develop students’ academic and functional achievement to support the attainment of students’ desired post-school goals.|
|Psychological Empowerment||A belief in the relationship between your actions and outcomes experienced (Mazzotti et al., 2020)|
|Self-Care/ Independent Living||Skills necessary for management of one’s personal self-care and daily independent living, including the personal management skills needed to interact with others, daily living skills, financial management skills, and the self-management of healthcare/wellness needs.|
|Self-determination/Self-advocacy||Self-determination is the ability to make choices, solve problems, set goals, evaluate options, take initiative to reach one’s goals, and accept consequences of one’s actions.|
|Self-realization||Having an understanding of one’s strengths and support needs (Mazzotti et al., 2020)|
|Social Skills||Behaviors and attitudes that facilitate communication and cooperation (e.g., social conventions, social problem-solving when engaged in a social interaction, body language, speaking, listening, responding, verbal and written communication).|
|Student Support||A network of people (e.g., family, friends, educators, and adult service providers) who provide services and resources in multiple environments to prepare students to obtain their annual transition and post-secondary goals aligned with their preferences, interests, and needs.|
|Technology Skills||(i.e., computer competence and computer skills) (Mazzotti et al., 2020)6|
|Transition Program||Program to prepare students to move from secondary settings (e.g., middle school/high school) to adult-life, utilizing comprehensive transition planning and education that creates individualized opportunities, services, and supports to help students achieve their post-school goals in education/training, employment, and independent living.|
|Travel Skills||Travel skills are defined as the ability to get to places outside home independently (Carter et al., 2012; McDonnall, 2011).|
|Work Study||A specified sequence of work skills instruction and experiences designed to develop students’ work attitudes and general work behaviors by providing students with mutually supportive and integrated academic and vocational instruction.|
|Youth Autonomy/ Decision-Making||Wehmeyer (1997) suggested autonomy occurs when an individual acts in relation to their own interests, preferences, and abilities without the undue influence of others. Wehmeyer and Schwartz (1998) defined decision-making as a process of selecting or coming to a conclusion about which set of potential solution is the best by teaching students to utilize problem-solving skills.|
However, limited research has historically included a large number of young adults with autism in their samples, although this is changing over time. Thus, it is unknown the extent to which each of these predictors apply for young adults with autism.
Understanding predictors is critical to supporting greater postschool outcomes for young adults with disabilities, including those with autism, because it helps inform and strengthen transition programs and practices in high school of in-school experiences that have been shown to increase the likelihood of youth to participate in outcomes, like college/university, getting a job, and/or living on one’s own or with roommates.