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Autism: Helping Your Child Head Into to Adulthood

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WebMD Feature

As your child with autism becomes an adult, he will face challenges, of course. But young adults with autism also have more and more opportunities. The key is to start planning for the transition before it comes. Here's how.

Create a Plan

“The educational system is ‘home base’ for a family with autism,” says Kerry Magro, of Autism Speaks, who was diagnosed with the condition as a child. Your child probably has had a specialized plan called an IEP (individualized education program) to help her through the lower grades.

“As kids who are on the autism spectrum enter their high school years, they should have an IEP that is focused on the proper transition plan for after they leave school,” says Matthew Cruger, PhD, senior director of the Learning and Development Center at New York’s Child Mind Institute.

Like your child's earlier IEP, you'll craft this one with teachers, school administrators, and other specialists. It focuses on things like:

  • College or vocational education
  • Work
  • Adult services
  • Independent living
  • Community involvement

Autism Speaks has many aids for adults living with autism, including transition tool kits. These provide guidance and timelines for the process in your state.

Going to College With Autism

If your child is college-bound, support is available. “Community colleges all have programs for students with disabilities," Cruger says. More than 20 four-year colleges offer services to help manage the change to college. While some are free, others cost $2,000 to $8,000 a semester, in addition to tuition.

You can also hire a coach through services like College Autism Spectrum. They can help your young adult figure out college structure and learn things like the unspoken college rules of conduct that can be hard for students with autism to understand.

You and your child can learn about college life and get advice from those who've been there in Navigating College - A Handbook on Self-Advocacy Written for Autistic Students from Autistic Adults. You can download a PDF of this handbook for free online.

Work and Day Programs

In 2012, the mortgage finance company Freddie Mac set up a paid internship program for college students with autism. Additionally, other employers are starting to see autistic adults as an untapped source of brainpower.

"Supported employment" assists in finding disabled individuals paying jobs and has proved that even those with severe disabilities are able to work.

"A workplace mentor helps to find them a job that suits their interests and abilities and checks in with them periodically to make sure it works," says Bruce Litinger, executive director of the Early Childhood Learning Center of New Jersey. The non-profit provides services to children and adults with special needs.

While supported employment helps people with special needs enter the workforce, there are also vocational programs that provide counseling and on-the-job training to high school students with autism. Check with your state’s developmental disabilities service to search for programs that suit your child.

What if your child isn't heading off to work? “Even if a young adult with autism can’t have a paying job, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to have some independence,” Litinger says. Taking part in activities like volunteering, gardening, art, and music can help him enjoy a more full social and emotional life.

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