What Happens After Graduation: Improving the transition to adulthood for young people with autism and additional learning needs

It is imperative that transitions and plans for learners who are diagnosed with autism and needing additional services are put in place in order for them to experience success and independence in their adult years.

Key Takeaway: According to two studies,1,2 autism is diagnosed in 1 out of 100 people in England. It is imperative that transitions and plans for learners who are diagnosed with autism and needing additional services are put in place in order for them to experience success and independence in their adult years. —Nika Espinosa

In their article, Crane et al. (2021) gathered data on how educational professionals in the United Kingdom view the transition for young people with autism and additional learning needs in relation to the Children and Families Act (2014) and the associated SEND Code of Practice, as well as their experiences in the field. According to the author’s research, for young adults who have been diagnosed with autism and additional learning needs after age 16, education doesn’t look favorable. The studies done by Anderson et al. (2016)3 and Wehman et al. (2014)4 support this picture. Thus, “there is an urgent need to understand how to promote good outcomes for autistic young people with additional learning needs as they transition into adulthood.”

The authors focused on 3 key areas of the SEND reforms:

  1. Help and support
  2. Having a say
  3. Achieving better outcomes

When providing help and support for the students, educational professionals acknowledged the challenges of limited finances, inadequate support from stakeholders, and the shift to using experiential knowledge to inform pedagogy. The participants expressed that in the current economic climate, funds for training have diminished, and at times, only one educational professional gets the training and is then expected to share their newly acquired knowledge with other colleagues. Another issue educational professionals face is that they rarely have time to implement the training they have undergone and are sometimes relying on experiential knowledge to guide their practice. They also mentioned that even receiving support for these students in the local community has been difficult to obtain. For example, the waiting list for the mental health services is often quite long. “While this finding is not specific to post-16 education, an emphasis on implementation with this vulnerable group, at this crucial phase of education, is arguably more important here than at any other time.”

When it comes to giving their students a voice, the themes that emerged in the study were uncertainties around doing the right thing and flexibility in the school environment. “Despite using various tools and techniques to support students in having a say in their education, participants doubted whether they were using the ‘right’ strategies to elicit the voices of their vulnerable students.” One participant said part of their uncertainty was whether the students were providing honest answers, echolalic (repetition of spoken words), or giving answers that they believe their educational professional is expecting to hear. Sometimes, school systems can diminish student voices when up against accreditation requirements and curriculum demands. “Even if education professionals are able to elicit and document the voices of their pupils genuinely and meaningfully, this becomes tokenistic if their views cannot be acted on.” It’s therefore important that student voice is acted upon by the supporting community.

In the area of achieving better outcomes, the themes that emerged from the participants were the need for an individualized approach to identify successful outcomes for these young learners with additional needs and the concern about the opportunities available for them. The participants partly attributed their concerns to the follow-through of transition opportunities and the lack of awareness that a person with autism can contribute to the workplace and society. It is important that the individualized approach is complemented with opportunities. As the authors recommend, establishing school-work partnerships and providing support for these young adults in the workplace is imperative to their continuous growth as individuals and enables them to be successful in their adult years.

Summarized Article: Crane, L., Davies, J., Fritz, A., O’Brien, S., Worsley, A., Ashworth, M., & Remington, A. (2021). The transition to adulthood for autistic young people with additional learning needs: the views and experiences of education professionals in special schools. British Journal of Special Education. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8578.12372

Summary by: Nika Espinosa—Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

1. Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D. & Charman, T. (2006) ‘Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP)’, Lancet, 368 (9531), 210–215.

2. Brugha, T. S., McManus, S., Bankart, J., Scott, F., Purdon, S., Smith, J., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R. & Meltzer, H. (2011) ‘Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England’, Archives of General Psychiatry, 68 (5), 459–465.

3. Anderson, K. A., McDonald, T. A., Edsall, D., Smith, L. E. & Taylor, J. L. (2016) ‘Postsecondary expectations of high-school students with au- tism spectrum disorders’, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 31 (1), 16–26.

4. Wehman, P. H., Schall, C. M., McDonough, J., Kregel, J., Brooke, V., Molinelli, A., Ham, W., Graham, C. W., Riehle, J. E., Collins, H. T. & Thiss, W. (2014) ‘Competitive employment for youth with autism spec- trum disorders: early results from a randomized clinical trial’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 487–500.

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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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