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Parenting on the Spectrum: Transitions to College and Beyond





Planning for the transition from high school to the next milestone in a teen’s life (college, work, gap year) is likely to be exciting and anxiety provoking for both parent and child. Successful entry into young adulthood requires direction and intentionality for most individuals on the spectrum.


Parents can be challenged knowing how to provide the right amount of guidance and support while encouraging their teen to be self-directed and an advocate for themselves. The following tips are offered to assist parents in anticipating and navigating this important transitional period in their child’s life.

  1. Don’t forget to celebrate your teen’s accomplishments which resulted in high school graduation. You’ve both worked really hard for this time so appreciate the moment.

  2. Remember that often young adults with social communication challenges are not ready to be fully independent by 18. Ongoing support from parents and other professionals is beneficial.

  3. Parents should base their expectations on teen’s abilities and emotional maturity not on chronological age or on what other similarly ages peers are doing.

  4. Start early teaching your child competencies such as being organized, completing work, following directions, accepting feedback, and taking responsibility for their homework. These are foundational skills for a successful adulthood.

  5. Help your teen view mistakes or poor decisions as learning opportunities.

  6. Provide experiences during high school and potential post-school settings (part-time employment, job coach, and residential camps). These experiences give you and your teen important information about challenges and areas of success.

  7. Reinforce good hygiene, appropriate dress, healthy nutrition, exercise, and sleep habits.

  8. Help your teen learn life skills such as cooking, shopping, and handling personal finances.

  9. Throughout high school have conversations about future plans. Listen to his/her thoughts about careers and life as an adult.

  10. Support your teen in pursuing volunteer positions, job shadowing, and other opportunities that expose them to real work settings.

  11. Continue to work on social and emotional skills as opportunities present within family and other social relationships.

  12. Actively participate in transition planning if your child is in public school and has an IEP. If this is not part of the teen’s education program create your own utilizing transition planning resources or consult an educational specialist or psychologist familiar with the spectrum.

  13. If your teen plans to apply to college, start researching schools that may be a good fit and provide needed supports. Start this process early in their junior year.

  14. If appropriate for your teen, learn about adult services and eligibility requirements for individuals with a diagnosed disability before they turn 18 (Vocational Rehab, student services for college, 504 plans, or other support services, and social security insurance).

  15. Determine if you and your young adult need legal consultation related to guardianship or power of attorney for healthcare or finance.


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