A cornerstone to successful transition from school to work for students on the autism spectrum is individual assessment that yields meaningful information for instructional planning. Transdisciplinary assessment, which involves the student’s full educational team, provides a comprehensive profile of student strengths and weaknesses in both academic and socioemotional/life skill areas. With a more complete profile, strategic independent living and socioemotional skill goals can be taught throughout the curriculum. Best practices for transition assessment include focusing on skills related to career development, employment, independent living, postsecondary education, community involvement and social relationships (Morningstar et al., 2016). Thus, transition assessment must be transdisciplinary assessment and an effective transition education plan must include instruction related to multiple life areas.
Educational planning aimed at successful transition begins with thorough assessment, an individualized on-going process of assessing a student’s strengths and weaknesses and gathering salient information for post-secondary planning. Effective transition assessment and instruction involves assessing strengths and interests as well as adaptive functioning including social functioning, executive functioning and transferable skills. The Individual Strengths and Skills Inventory (ISSI) and the Underlying Characteristics Checklist (UCC) can be used to gather qualitative information about student skills and strengths, social and communication behaviors, restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors and interests and sensory, cognitive and motor differences (Aspy & Grossman, 2008). The UCC (both parent and student reported versions) can also be used to complete a Ziggurat worksheet to help faculty better understand students and to develop thoughtful interventions as needed. Additionally, information gathered about students from parents can be incorporated into their initial education plans in order to better understand the student and to guide lesson planning.
Adaptive functioning scales such as the Vineland-II can inform which practical life goals, e.g. improving daily living skills, will be helpful in an educational plan, particularly related to goals aimed at eventual independent living (Sparrow et al., 2005). An assessment such as the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF) (Roth et al., 2015) can inform instructional planning related to time management, organization and planning and shifting- all skills which contribute to success in both school and work. Finally, a formal social assessment tool, such as the Social Responsiveness Scale or the Social Skills Rating System can provide a baseline of student social abilities as well as provide information about which areas of social understanding and skills would most benefit from intervention (Constantino & Gruber, 2012; Gresham and Elliott, 1990).
The transition assessment tools mentioned previously can also be supplemented as needed with additional formal clinical assessment. In addition, faculty can record informal observations that supplement an understanding of the student’s strengths and needs. For example, a student scored poorly on a measure of social reciprocity, but it is observed that he is able to ask questions and be more reciprocal in specific contexts. Student profiles obtained during transition assessment can simultaneously inform instructional planning and help to create good matches and appropriate accommodations at job sites.
Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI)
Evidence indicates that students instructed in the self-determined learning model of instruction (SDLMI) model are more likely to have achieved positive adult outcomes, including being employed at a higher rate than peers who were not self-determined (Wehmeyer, 1997). In the SDLMI model, students are taught how to set goals and revise them as needed; thus, they identify their job/career and educational goals following the SDLMI model (Wehmeyer, 2007). Other self-determination skills include choice and decision making, problem-solving, self-management, self-regulation, self-advocacy/leadership, and self-awareness/ knowledge. These skills enable students to make informed decisions which will improve the quality of their lives.
Transdisciplinary Job Assessment and Compatibility Analysis
Since work experience has been identified as a major predictor of post-school success in employment (Test, 2009), it follows that every student needs at least one job or internship opportunity before they graduate. Also, the process must be undertaken in a strategic way to set students up for success. Effective job development includes a full ecological assessment with a site visit to observe the environment and suggest any modifications that may be needed as well as a task analysis for each component of the job (Berkell, 1987). After this, a compatibility matching process with the demands of the job, e.g. related to appearance, physical strength and socioemotional requirements can be completed (Powell et al., 1991).
During the matching process, the transition coordinators and clinical team can review details of the work environment as well as job specifics to suggest any recommended adaptations. For example, the speech therapist may recommend a task analysis be taught to a student using pictures or the occupational therapist may recommend a student wear headphones, if possible, to prevent dysregulation from loud stimuli in a factory environment. For ongoing adjustments and feedback, an employment consultant can work closely with the student and employer to ensure modifications are made on both ends that will contribute to tasks being completed successfully.
Creating a business advisory council of participating organizations and businesses in order to support the community in helping to integrate students with autism into the working world is also a key component in ensuring ongoing school-business partnerships (Luecking et al., 2015). By developing a network of community support, continued opportunities are created for both students and businesses. In addition, long-term goals of increased employer awareness and improved percentages of people on the spectrum and with disabilities working in the labor market can be achieved.
A future with employment, independence, social opportunity and relationships, community participation and self-directed goals should be possible for all students. Using a transdisciplinary approach to assessing and understanding individual strengths and capabilities along with targeted instruction and an evidence-based transition protocol will help ensure that more students are able to lead productive, meaningful lives.
Candice Baugh, MA, LMHC, is Career and Internship Transition Program Coordinator at Shrub Oak International School and can be reached at 914-885-0110 x705, firstname.lastname@example.org. Catherine McDermott, MSE, MEd, is Postsecondary Transition Program Coordinator at Shrub Oak International School and can be reached at 914-885-0110 x723, email@example.com. For more information, please visit www.shruboak.org.
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