Webinar Recap: Promoting Social Emotional Wellness Among Transition Age Youth with ASD

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Addressing the Challenges Facing Transition Age Youth with ASD

Rethink recently had the amazing opportunity to host a webinar on the topic of social emotional wellness for transition age youth with ASD.  We were privileged to be joined by three talented professionals, each with their own unique perspectives to share on the topic.  Anne Roux is a researcher at the Drexel Institute and has published extensively on the topic.  Kimberly Smalley is an autism clinical specialist and behavior analyst with many years of experience providing behavioral services to individuals with autism of all ages.  Finally, we were lucky to be joined by Maurice Snell, a development coordinator at Easter Seals, and an adult with ASD who was able to share with us his own experience of growing up and transitioning to adulthood with autism.

What is the Services Cliff?

Over the last year the phrase “services cliff” has become a staple of the standard lexicon used in autism circles.  The term refers to the drop off of services that occurs for young adults with autism as they transition out of high school and into adulthood, often a time when, as new research suggests, services might be most valuable. Because there is no federal mandate to provide supportive services in adulthood, families are often left struggling to find adequate support for their children on their own, with seventy percent reporting that “some” or “great” effort was needed to access services after high school.

How Does Social Emotional Wellness Fit In?

Further compounding the problem is that 60-70% of these young adults with ASD also have a co-occurring health or mental health condition, with 3/4 of youth taking at least 1 medication on a regular basis for a co-occurring condition.  We also know that young adults with ASD are significantly more likely to suffer from depression than their peers. What we do not yet know is exactly how mental health conditions impact individuals with autism.  

Whether or not a young adult suffers from a mental health condition, one of the key features of an autism diagnosis is difficulty relating to other people, and without the community school provides, this can then tend to leave young adults with autism feeling isolated and alone upon graduating. A Drexel Institute study found that 1 in 4 young adults with autism had not seen or spoken with friends in the past year.

The goal of the webinar was to better understand the research, what some of the systemic problems are, and to discover different ways that they can be addressed.

Challenges and Solutions

During the webinar Roux reviewed the current research she has done with the Drexel Institute, laying out some of the issues, including the lack of coordinate services, lack of planning and preparation when students are still in school, and a knowledge gap in the research on the relationship between autism and mental health conditions.   

Kimberly Smalley who works in California discussed some of the things she has seen be successful in her own practice.  For instance, California operates a regional system, which in some cases pulls together multidisciplinary teams through telehealth, allowing disability and health service providers to talk to one another and to parents.

Smalley also emphasized the importance of teaching students the social skills they will need to build relationships and live meaningful adult lives. For instance, she worked with a group of boys to specifically teach them self-advocacy and self-determination.  She would break the components of self-determination into small task analyses in the same way she would any other skill, and then use rapid fluency to help them learn things like things you can say on a date or in a job interview.  For Smalley, it is always important to keep the long view in mind.  “We continue to fight the myth that autism goes away in adulthood,” she explained, “we need to empower youth with ASD to be responsible for what they can do to make themselves comfortable in the world.”

Both Roux and Smalley agreed that better supports can be put in place before young adults transition that set them up for success.  Leaving school with a job or community is still the best predictor of success in life beyond school.  Schools, parents, and communities can all help by ensuring that young adults with autism have employment opportunities while still in school and communities can make a point to have places students can transition to after school through jobs programs and volunteer programs.

Snell agreed, sharing his own personal account of how important his church community was in making him feel like he had a social community while in school that extended into adulthood.  He also commended his supportive family that went to great lengths to ensure he was in a supportive school community where he was encouraged to get involved in extracurricular activities, like marching band and ROTC, and always provided him with a social life outside of school. His sister is one of his best friends.

View The Webinar On Demand!

Watch the webinar on demand to learn more from our guests about the current research, practical strategies for teaching social emotional wellness, and real life accounts of what works and what does not, we encourage you to check out the slides and watch the entire webinar!

View Webinar

Transition Success Story

Check out how Yonkers Public Schools began using Rethink’s Transition Curriculum to teach the students Transition skills and used Rethink’s task analysis sheets to collect data on the tasks the students perform.


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