Transition Planning for Autistic Adolescents and Young Adults

young adults working together

This article originally appeared in START Connecting in April 2022. 

Intentional planning and preparation for the future can result in more positive outcomes for autistic youth transitioning to adulthood (Test et al., 2020). This is a multi-faceted process that takes place over time versus discrete events and involves the student, family, educational IEP team, community agencies, and other professionals. Most important throughout the process is maintaining high expectations at both school and home while promoting independent thinking, skills, and expression to achieve greater self-determination upon leaving high school.

There are many considerations with transition planning including goals after high school and building a roadmap to get there. Some considerations include post-high school education; future careers and employment; living arrangements; health care, sexuality, and living a healthy lifestyle; friendships, dating, and other relationships; safety, recreation, and navigating the community; and becoming as independent and self-determined as possible.

Research demonstrates that individuals with ASD who have been held to higher expectations and attain greater independence in their daily living skills have more positive vocational and educational outcomes (Taylor & Mailick, 2013; Carter, 2014).

While the formal process of transition planning begins in high school, it is beneficial to begin thinking and planning much earlier. Research demonstrates that individuals with ASD who have been held to higher expectations and attain greater independence in their daily living skills have more positive vocational and educational outcomes (Taylor & Mailick, 2013; Carter, 2014). Teaching social-emotional skills also can improve social awareness, ability to take perspectives, initiate social interactions, self-regulate, and gain important interpersonal skills for greater lifelong success across settings (Ratcliff et al. 2014; Sofronoff, Silva, & Beaumont, 2017).

START recognizes the need for increased education about the transition process and transition resources for schools and families, with the following initiatives underway:

  • Secondary Transition: Preparing Students with ASD for Success is a pilot training sequence that was developed this year including two webinars, a coaching day, and self-paced instruction using a newly developed web interface. The training and online resources are focused on 5 key components critical to positive transition outcomes, including  Education, Transition Services, and the IEP; Planning for Competitive Integrated Employment; Interagency Coordination and Collaboration; Empowering Students; and Independent Living. This website is available to everyone and includes evidence-based information related to transition planning; research supporting the information shared, and activities users can engage in to learn about the components covered. The website will continue to be enhanced as new resources, research, and information comes online and with feedback from current users. 
  • START Sexual Health Community of Practice (CoP) is comprised of educators and professionals from across the state. This group focuses on providing information and resources related to sexual health, safety, and self-advocacy. 
  • The ASD 365: Equity and Inclusion Every Day initiative was initiated last year to promote autistic individuals and their families being fully included in their communities. The goal is to move society beyond awareness where autistic individuals are accepted, respected, and appreciated every day of the year.

In support of secondary transition, the 21st Annual START Conference, Preparing for Adulthood: Building on Strengths and Creating Opportunities is hosting three national speakers covering content related to transition and preparing for adulthood.  The following speakers align with START’s Transition initiatives to promote best practices in transition and supporting autistic individuals and their families.

  • Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D., Executive Director, EPIC School: Dr. Gerhardt has over 35 years of experience working with adults with ASD. He is a highly respected author, clinician, presenter, and researcher in the field. He is the founding Chairman of the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) which offers evidence-based information and free resources. Some of the resources include the Sex Ed for Self-Advocates online training and Podcast; self-advocacy information for middle and high school and college students; employment resources including the Hire Autism job portal; scholarships and grants; resources for families and educators; and numerous others. Dr. Gerhardt will present The Role of ABA in Improving Outcomes for Adults with ASD/ID.
  • Sean Roy, Chief Training and Innovation Officer, TransCen, Inc. and spearheaded the development of the PACER National Parent Center on Transition and Employment: PACER offers a multitude of free resources for parents, educators, and professionals on transition topics. Sean developed five brief video clips Transition Tips: How Parents Can Help Their Youth Find Employment Success. Other topics covered include middle and high school transition planning; laws and rights; employment, independent and community living; disability and sexuality; health care; postsecondary education; self-advocates sharing information; and many others. Resources include online and downloadable print material, videos, and tool kits. Sean Roy will present Elevating the Role of Families: Raising Expectations and Partnering for Improved Outcomes.
  • Amy Gravino, M.A., President/Founder A.S.C.O.T Consulting; Amy is an autistic self-advocate and international speaker, author, autism consultant, college coach, and leader on autism and sexuality and neurodiversity in sex education. Amy is on numerous organizational boards, appears on the OAR Sex Ed for Self-Advocates training, and presents on autism and sexuality throughout the U.S.  Amy Gravino will present on Sexuality and the Spectrum: Lessons on Sex, Dating, and Love, Autism Style.

Written by: Stacie Rulison, M.S., M.Ed., BCBA


  • Carter, E. (2014, December). What Matters Most: Research on Elevating Parent Expectations.
  • Ratcliffe, B., Wong, M., Dossetor, D., & Hayes, S. (2014). Teaching social–emotional skills to school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder: A treatment versus control trial in 41 mainstream schools. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 8(12), 1722–1733.
  • Sofronoff, K., Silva, J., & Beaumont, R. (2017). The Secret Agent Society Social-Emotional Skills Program for Children With a High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Parent-Directed Trial. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(1), 55–70.
  • Taylor, J. & Mailick, M. (2014). A longitudinal examination of 10-year change in vocational and educational activities for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology, 50(3), 699–708.
  • Test, D. W., Coyle, J., Rusher, D., Carter, E., Seaman-Tullis, R., & Odom, S. L. (2020). Secondary transition of students with autism spectrum disorder: Recommendations for researchers. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 55(3), 247-263.

Page last modified July 11, 2022