Beyond Graduation – What’s Next for Students with ASD?

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Editor’s Note – This article is from Kathleen Dolbee, a parent, educator, and ASNC Autism Resource Specialist.

Graduation day is a big deal.

In fact, it is so big, that parents must begin planning for it when their children enter high school. If your child has an IEP, from the time he turned 14, his team has been guiding and supporting his transition to the big world that lies beyond the school campus.

It was an especially poignant time for me, both as a parent and as an educator, when my son completed the requirements for graduation. In addition, I had grown very close to several of the children I first worked with in the public school system who also were graduating. In planning a graduation party, I took a long stroll down Memory Lane. The combination of bittersweet memories and trepidation about the future left me feeling slightly nostalgic and slightly nauseous.

For parents of kids on the autism spectrum, public school can be like a wild ride at an amusement park. Most years begin with optimism and excitement, by mid-year we are hanging on for dear life, and by year’s end, we just want the ride to be over. Summer brings with it new challenges, and by the time the new school year rolls around, we’re ready to begin again, crossing our fingers. While we may lose our naïve optimism, at least the routine is a familiar one.

Not so for parents of high school graduates. There is nothing familiar about what lies ahead. Guardianship, SSI, college, trade school, sheltered workshop, job interviews, finding the needed services, group home, stay at home, or independent living: these are all new issues, uncharted territory. This is the real-life test that will reveal the strengths and/or flaws of that transition plan that began all those years ago.

Young adults with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome are often able to perform a job but have difficulty with the interview process and lack the social and organizational skills to stay employed. If they are attending a community college or university, it will be necessary for them to learn about disclosure in addition to self-advocacy skills.

Parents of young adults with more profound challenges face different obstacles. School has provided a place to go and engaging activities. Often these are sadly lacking in the world beyond the school campus. Having learned what’s what and who’s who within the school system, many parents find themselves novices again, unsure about what their rights are and what they can reasonably request.

For kids in school, graduation looks like a finish line. But those who have already crossed that threshold have learned that it is just the beginning, which is likely why the graduation ceremony is called “Commencement.”

ASNC Autism Resource Specialists offer workshops to help parents understand the transition process as it applies both to school and life beyond school. Some of the titles include:

  • Developing an ITP: What’s That?
  • Journey to Adulthood
  • Considering College? Prepare, Plan, Succeed

For more information on these workshops, click here.

For our online resource guides on transitioning to adulthood, click here.

To find an Autism Resource Specialist near you, click here.

The ASNC Bookstore also carries dozens of resources that might be helpful to you. Find them here.

Kathleen Dolbee can be reached by email at kdolbee@autismsociety-nc.org.

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