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Focus on Successful Transitions at ASNC Conference


The Autism Society of North Carolina held its annual conference March 11-12 in Charlotte. We will be sharing information from conference presentations in upcoming blog posts.

Dr. Laura Klinger, Executive Director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program in Chapel Hill, opened the second day of ASNC’s 2016 conference with a presentation titled “Autism Grown Up: Supporting Positive Adult Outcomes.”

One of TEACCH’s goals is to learn more about adults with autism, Dr. Klinger said. The changing prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder means a wave of adults is coming, and very little research has focused on adults and what services they need. TEACCH, as a part of the University of North Carolina, a research institution, aims to create new services and research the effectiveness of those.

With that goal, TEACCH has been conducting a study of adults with autism who were served as children by TEACCH from 1969 to 2000. The study includes surveys of the adults themselves as well as their caregivers. It aimed to discover what factors predict adult employment and examine the relationship between employment and adult quality of life.

The survey results of the adults with autism have not yet been analyzed, but Dr. Klinger was able to share the results of the caregivers. The survey included questions on the individuals’ living situations, education levels, amount of assistance with daily self-care, employment, and services received.

From those results, three main conclusions were clear, Dr. Klinger said:

  1. Conversation ability does not predict whether individuals can maintain a job. It does predict whether they ever have a job. What predicts very strongly whether you can maintain a job is daily living skills. Can the individual perform the following self-care tasks: grooming, cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc.
  2. Employment improves quality of life. Individuals who are employed are more satisfied with life, have a better sense of belonging, feel more empowered, have more contact with friends, and have less anxiety and depression.
  3. Significant supports for daily living skills and employment skills are needed for many adults with autism.

So how can we prepare individuals with autism for adult employment, which will bring so many benefits? The keys are to start early, teach daily living skills, and provide autism-specific supports in organization, emotion regulation, and social skills.

TEACCH programs

Dr. Klinger shared details of two programs that TEACCH offers for teenagers with autism to help prepare them for transitions to employment or post-secondary education: Project SEARCH and TEACCH School Transition to Employment Program (T-STEP).

Individuals who need more intensive support enroll in Project SEARCH during their last year of secondary school. The class includes internships at host employers and the support of a full-time teacher as well as a job coach.

T-STEP is aimed at high-school students who are enrolled in regular education classes, with a borderline to average IQ. The program includes a minimum once-a-week internship, skill-practice opportunities, and group sessions for one semester. T-STEP begins with self-assessments, so the individuals’ responses about their goals and challenges determine what they will work on.

Prepare Your Child

Dr. Klinger shared areas that TEACCH focuses on with individuals with autism in transition, some of which families may be able to work on at home.

Organized daily living skills: Students with ASD should learn to do the following activities independently:

  • Use a cell phone, make calls, retrieve messages, erase old messages
  • Use a planner/calendar system
  • Use an alarm clock
  • Use a washing machine and dryer, including coin-operated
  • Take medicine and monitor need for refills
  • How to clean in an orderly, systematic way, such as from left to right. Many first jobs involve cleaning.
  • Ask your child what he or she wants to learn. Then determine what skills are needed to get there? Plan it out in steps.

Self-awareness and self-monitoring: Students have a lot of experience with people telling them what they do well and what they need to work on, so teens with autism may struggle to initiate, inhibit, control, and generalize behaviors. They must learn to perform tasks without reminders.

  • Use a daily planner. The individual should choose what type will work best and learn to put activities on, create a task list, follow the list, and check off items.

Social skills/advocacy: For employment readiness, individuals must learn social skills are not just about friendship. Individuals with autism may think, “Why bother?”

  • Ask how the individual wants others to perceive him or her.
  • Discuss with them why they should bother. They may think that they don’t care whether people say hello and goodbye, so others should not either. Explain that people who have better social skills go further in employment.
  • Teach them social pleasantries: greetings, compliments, please, and thank you.
  • Sometimes you might have to tell teens to just fake it. “I know you don’t want to do it, but you want this job.”

Emotion regulation: It is important that individuals learn coping skills to keep from being overwhelmed and feeling in control.

  • Have them choose a coping skill that works for them: Go to a quiet area, take a walk, listen to music, practice deep breathing, tensing/releasing exercise, think or read about or see pics of things I like, practice slow stretching, say positive things, write in a journal, count to 50
  • Practice the skills at times when they are not stressed.
  • When they were kids, they could get up and leave some situations. That is not always appropriate as adults, so they need in-the-moment ones, and some that can be a daily practice to relieve stress.


If you would like to learn more about preparing your teenager for a transition to adulthood, see ASNC’s website. We also offer workshops called “Journey to Adulthood” and “Preparing for College Starts at Home”; find our Schedule of Workshops here.

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