It’s called transition planning and it’s common for parents to be more stressed and concerned about life after high school than for a child with autism. However it can be a very difficult and scary time for a child because of change, leaving the structured world of special education. The reality is proper planning for life post secondary education for a child with autism no matter what their level of functioning, is critical to success. Although it can be tricky to plan for your child’s future with all these factors involved it is imperative to be honest, candid, and practical and keep a positive attitude about the possibilities.
The first decision, between continuing with school or going straight into the workforce is usually the easier decision. A parent generally knows best what path will fit their child’s needs. The formal transitional planning period begins at 16 and includes the student, parents and members of the IEP (Individual Education Program) Your child’s school should assess your daughter/son’s abilities and needs so that they can start determining the right path for them to pursue.
Once a child reaches the age of 18 they are considered adults and as such are no longer your legal dependents which limit the options available for education, parental support and therapy. They also make their own decisions and unless they sign a power of attorney granting you access, you have no legal rights regarding contacting their doctors, teachers or therapists. If your child is not capable of signing a power of attorney, you as a parent can go to court and be appointed the adult child’s guardian (limited or full).
Parents must wade through both regional and state programs, strange acronyms and paperwork to best decide what might work best for their child. It’s important to think about your child’s financial future. Social Security and Medicaid benefits may be available however they require strict adherence to limits. Be sure to find out if these regulations will impact your child by rendering them ineligible for federal programs. Here are tips to help you navigate the transition process.
1- Make sure your child takes a career assessment test for some initial direction that can help the student focus on the concrete rather than the abstract. It’s imperative to stay involved and keep on top of the process even if you think the school is handling it. Look into options on your own. Some agencies such as the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Social Security Administration, or independent and supported living centers may provide training or direct services to assist the school with a student’s transition. Local public schools are required by law to supply information about these services as part of transition planning in high school.
2- There should be a master plan with short and long range goals and the tasks or activities that are required to achieve those goals. The goals and services will be dependent on the needs, skills and personal preferences of each child. Parent’s can help their son or daughter by assigning some chores or arranging for volunteer work to discover whether or not they want a structured work environment or a competitive job. The options to consider for post high school life are:
Community interaction and participation
Level of independent living skills
Adult services offered
Adult and continuing education
Integrated and/or supported employment
3-Consider your child’s strengths and interests and don’t discount splinter skills (strengths that may be out of proportion to their other skills). Focus on those as can be the foundation for thriving in continuing education, employment and socialization. This can range from careers as musicians, mathematicians, artists, structural designers with mechanical or spatial skills; mathematical calculation skills, athletic performance; and computer ability.
4- Ask career/vocational questions. It’s important that the parents, the child, the teachers, siblings and other significant persons in your child’s life be a part of this as each can offer valuable insights. Some questions to start the ball rolling are below and in the course of asking them other questions that are pertinent will come up. Add to and refine your list as you go through the process to develop the best direction for your child.
- What does your son/daughter like to do?
- What can they do?
- What needs to be explored more?
- What skills or information does your son/daughter need to learn and understand to reach their goals?
- How does college fit in the picture for them? 4 year, community, vocational or adult education?
- What options/services are available for learning about employment and/or training?
- Where will your son/daughter live?
- How does a job sound to your child, either supportive or competitive?
- How will they support themselves?
- How will they acquire health insurance?
- Will your child require help and support from you? (You may want to see an attorney who deals specifically with Special Needs Trusts, if this is the case)
- What kind of transportation is available for your child?
5- Ask social interactive questions. Life after high school must also take into account the social network of your child. Friends, community and a sense of belonging are just as important factors.
- Does your child have the skills to form and foster friendships or will they need help and encouragement
- Is your child known in the community through volunteer, sports, creative arts or religious affiliations?
- Does your son or daughter have a hobby or passion? Are they involved in a horseback riding program, music program or club that others may share an interest in as an activity?
- What venues are available for socializing? For example: choir, sports/team recordkeeping/statistician, religious affiliations, senior center involvement, fire department volunteer helper.
6- Take action. As with anything planning is not enough. Follow through is key to a successful venture. If your child is especially gifted with math or computer skills see if you can arrange to acquire a position for them in a data services job. They will learn the office and social skills and procedures appropriate for a work environment. This might involve clocking in or following a schedule work task list or even giving them the right amount of time to get to work on time. Making sure your child can sit for certain length of time required in a work environment is crucial.
Try to offer them the tools to help them decide if this environment is one they might want to explore. You might also consider setting up a section of your home or home office for them as a practice work environment. My sister in law did this for her child to acclimate him to a simulated work environment. She furnished it with the necessary technology as well as furnishings such as a desk, ergonomic mesh chair and photos of the things he loved to make him feel comfortable.
Many businesses offer employment in different capacities such as packaging companies which require assembly with a requirement for accuracy and a deadline, uniform service companies that require sorting and cleaning, US military installations are very supportive by offering positions that involve copying, folding sealing and mailing newsletters. The skills needed and required are neatness and completion of tasks in a timely manner.
For outdoor or non office work consider jobs such as community clean up, store greeter, restaurant host/hostess, a cleaning job, industrial arts, home maintenance, mobile work crew opportunities such as lawn care and maintenance, janitorial services. By offering a student the opportunity to experience numerous and diverse work settings and acquire the necessary and suitable skills the child will be more comfortable with the decision and be able to choose the best path.
7- The Mindset of Parents- This is a tough one as it is so hard to push a child we feel/know might have a more difficult time than others but you may be doing them a disservice. What we thought as limiting possibilities may be shattered and your child may exceed your expectations and limited beliefs. To read more on this topic of possibility thinking go to goldenmailbox.com/library and goldenmailbox.com/newsletters
8- Know the Contacts-To prepare your child, know who to contact for help. Employment related service agencies may not get involved until your child is close to graduating from high school. Do a search online for services in your state. In New Jersey within the department of Labor there is The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS). They help people with disabilities to prepare for, obtain and keep a job. They offer services such as:
Job coaching; vocational, professional or on-the-job training
Another place to contact is MHMR services in your state. They can help with services that can connect your child to adult services such as placements and/or living supports. Keep in mind the waiting lists can be very long for MHMR services, in some instances up to 10 years. So whether you anticipate needed the services or not get on the waiting list . You always have the option of turning down the services if they are not needed when they become available.
You can find additional information and suggestions for parents of adult children with autism and more resources to help them to succeed at Protected Tomorrows. Founder and president,the Mary Anne Ehlert, is a highly regarded authority in planning for the future for special needs adults.
Although the transition process can be a complex one with countless decisions to be made, if parents, teachers, school officials and agencies work together on a good plan that will allow the best opportunities for the child everyone wins. The bottom line is a child’s options after high school are increased dramatically by a good transition plan during school, whether that means further education or employment.
About the Author
Denise Zangoglia is a home office professional who has been working from home since 1999. She is the publisher of TheHomeOfficeCafe.com, a website dedicated to assist entrepreneurs and work at home professionals with resources for creating an ideally designed ergonomic work space along with tools to support and grow their business. She writes on a variety of topics ranging from choosing the best ergonomic desk chairs for productivity to home based business resources such as the right online backup solution, website creation and marketing strategies.