Transitions are often difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. People with ASD usually rely on routines in order to better navigate social situations, and a sudden schedule or lifestyle change, such as beginning or graduating from school or starting a new job, can be very disruptive and discomforting. That said, preparatory activities can reduce the stress of transitions, resulting in confidence and comfort during these difficult phases.
For many people with ASD, a major early transition is that from the home environment to preschool or kindergarten settings. Fortunately, at this stage in life many helpful resources are available. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) can help the student with special needs to pursue a valuable and appropriate education. The mandate for that “fair and appropriate public education” (FAPE) comes from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; http://idea.ed.gov/). Acclimation to the social environment of the school requires support from parents, teachers and other school personnel, and other students. For more information and guidance on elementary-age school transitions, click here.
As students with ASD progress through middle and high school, transitions remain a present and challenging aspect of life. Along with the physical and emotional changes and challenges of puberty (click here for suggestions on how to address these), the student and his/her family will in many cases begin to address the move to either employment or college life; this transition planning should begin when the child reaches age 14. And, in fact, transition services are mandated under IDEA for disabled children age 14 and older. Click here for ways to involve the student with autism in the transition after high school.
Many individuals with ASD pursue higher education, earning degrees as well as learning the skills they will need for adult life. (Click here to learn about the college transition.) Some colleges provide resources to students with special needs and there are also programs available that offer social, academic, career and life skills supports necessary for postsecondary success. For information about one such program, click here.
At some point (either after high school or college), the time will likely come to find a job that provides the individual with income, a social experience, and fulfilling work. This transition is a difficult one that requires much effort on the part of the individual and his or her loved ones, but it is, of course, a very rewarding one. Once a job is found, chances are that the individual will eventually make a job or career switch at least a few times during their lifetime, which involves acclimating to a new work environment and new people. Click here for an article about job transitions for people with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Although adapting to changes is more difficult for the individual with ASD, it is certainly attainable if he/she is supported by family, friends, and the community at large. With aid and encouragement, he/she can achieve his/her full potential and maximum quality of life.