Understanding the Essential Elements of a Transition Program in Preparing Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder for Adulthood

Friday, May 13, 2016: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall A (Baltimore Convention Center)
G. Y. H. Lam1, J. C. Timmons2 and A. Zalewska2, (1)School Psychology Program, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, (2)Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA

There is an increasing number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) entering adulthood. They struggle through the post-school transition to attain promising adult outcomes, such as employment and postsecondary education. A 30-week multi-component community-based transition program provides these young adults with opportunities for self-exploration and career planning through activities such as classroom instruction, internship experience, and peer mentoring.


To understand stakeholders’ experiences and to investigate the essential elements in a community-based transition program that aims to promote independence and support post-school outcomes in young adults with ASD.


As a part of a program evaluation, 18 stakeholders were recruited to participate in individual semi-structured interviews. A purposeful sampling method was used to recruit a range of stakeholder groups, including program staff, peer mentors, community collaborators, students with ASD, parents, alumni with ASD who had graduated from the program, and alumni’s parents. Stakeholders were asked to describe their experience in the program, how their experience contributed to students’ growth and development, and recommendations for improvements. All interviews were transcribed verbatim and were subjected to thematic analysis using a constant comparative method, which involved generating themes and codes as well as memo writing.


Findings from the qualitative data analysis revealed a set of values that permeated all program components, including student-centeredness, strength-based perspective, customized and individualized supports, and organizational and professional development. These fundamental principles pervaded each of the main program components, namely knowledge about self and career, practice in real-world contexts, and support through a safe environment. Throughout the program, both students and parents underwent a period of personal growth and transformation, in which parent transformation was marked by learning to “let go,” while student transformation manifested as an emerging confidence in terms of (a) self-awareness, (b) self-esteem, (c) independence, (d) preparedness, and (e) social competence. Stakeholders also identified program barriers and suggested areas of improvement, including (a) strengthening autism awareness training to external collaborators; (b) providing structured support to the internship experience; (c) building partnerships with the local community; (d) providing instructional support to students with diverse abilities; (e) explicating program mission and expectations; (f) providing support to families and peer mentors; and (g) building post-program student and family capacity.


The present program evaluation revealed essential program features that support youth-to-adulthood transition for individuals with ASD. Poster participants will be able to learn about effective components of a transition program and to incorporate them within their current programs and future endeavors to improve adult outcomes of the ASD populations. Future research could further explore the evidence base of the abovementioned programmatic features with a more vigorous design.