School's Out Forever...What Do We Do Now? Navigating life after graduation for those with ASD
Transition to adult life for kids with autism after graduation. An image of a diversity graduation day cap tossing ceremony.

School’s Out Forever…What Do We Do Now? Navigating life after graduation for those with ASD

Once the last few weeks of summer roll around, parents start thinking about the transition to back to school. If your child has graduated, the road ahead can feel daunting without the daily structure of school. Finishing school is a big life transition. It can be difficult for those with ASD to jump right into post-secondary education or employment once school finishes. Some individuals with autism may not be able to work or pursue further education due to the severity of their disability. Others may be able to continue their education or find employment but need time to acquire additional skills.

With year-long waiting lists the norm, you may be your child’s best resource

My two children with autism, ages 18 and 20, both graduated in June. I have found this transition period overwhelming, particularly because there are no agencies where I live accepting anyone in their programs; all agencies are full with years’ long waiting lists. Out of necessity, I’ve had to come up with a plan to make each child’s day meaningful and interesting for them. It was important to have their input and hear their ideas in order to ensure the choices being offered were right for them.

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What makes a good “adult” life?

I’ve had to think about what a good adult life should include, and came up with these parameters:

  • a comfortable home
  • good health
  • meaningful relationships
  • being safe in the community
  • working at something enjoyable
  • participating in leisure activities
  • feeling a sense of security about the future

This is the foundation and framework for exploring the options for adulthood. I’ve kept these things in mind as I do my research and planning. While all areas of adult life need to be addressed, they don’t all need to be explored at the same time. This transition is also a process that needs time to gather the necessary information, services and supports.

Here are 10 ideas on how to help your child with autism transition to adult life after graduation

  1. Make a list of your child’s interests. Think about what could be related to these interests in terms of activities. For example, my daughter is interested in working with cats so once a week, she goes to a Cat Cafe to see what caring for cats is all about. We got her a cat two years ago to help her build cat care skills. She also attends local cat shows to learn about breeds.
  2. Find a physical activity. Exercise is important for lowering anxiety and improving health. Visit your local recreational center to see what’s on offer. Community centers often have yoga or group fitness classes at a nominal cost. Our children enjoy swimming, bowling and biking and they do those activities weekly. Both kids want to learn how to golf.
  3. Join a club or group. Clubs are a great way to meet other people who share a similar interest. There are book clubs, gaming groups, bird watchers, sports clubs, bowling leagues, movie clubs – the list is endless. They also offer opportunities for socializing.
  4. Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to build employment skills and can lead to a paying job. My children have been volunteering at a farmers’ market for 6 years which has been a great addition to application forms.
  5. Join an adult support group. Other parents going through the transition process can be great sources of information. Sometimes support groups have guest speakers from local agencies. It’s also a great forum to ask questions.
  6. Explore arts and culture. Every city or town has special events that could help to expand interests. Our son attends free music concerts, participates in drumming once a week, and has a pass to a museum since exhibits are always changing. Our daughter is interested in dance and wants to take an art class.
  7. Visit your local library. Libraries offer much more than just books these days. They have clubs, lectures, show films, and offer classes. The best thing is that libraries are free. I’ve been bowled over by what is on offer.
  8. Consider continuing education courses. High schools and other institutions offer courses for the community. These can be just for fun or teach a new skill like cooking or photography. These can be a good stepping stone to a post-secondary institution by providing course experience in an adult setting.
  9. Allot time for independent skill development. We’ll be focusing on using public transit to get to activities this fall. Our daughter wants to start baking so we’ll ask her support worker to dedicate time to cooking and shopping for ingredients. Housekeeping skills, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, and using self-checkouts are examples of what could be taught.
  10. Attend open houses or information sessions at local agencies/organizations. Open sessions are great ways to learn more about what an organization offers. You can also investigate their resource area as there are often brochures about other programs free to take.

The first couple of years out of school are ones of trial and error, discovering what works and what doesn’t. Take one step at a time and don’t worry if everything doesn’t fall into place right away. I have already been working for months on our plan, years in some areas. The important thing is to take it slow, reflect on what is happening, and be prepared to make adjustments as the need arises.

For further help in planning the transition from school to adulthood, have a look at these resources:

Adult Life with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Self-Help Guide

Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults

Preparing for Life: The Complete Handbook of the Transition to Adulthood for Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome


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  1. Jasmine says:

    Hi Maureen,
    Where can I look for a volunteer job?
    My daughter is 13 years old.

  2. Tim Ingram says:

    Hi Maureen – I’m curious why you didn’t go to age 21 for school? I know many parents preference FMS thru PDD instead of school because it is more flexible to provide all the things you’ve mentioned. Is that why you chose to end school now?

    • Tim, it is not a given that you can keep your child until the age of 21 at school. This is up to the discretion of each administrative team at the school. Calgary Board of Ed. is no longer extending school years as of 2017. Marc went until the age of 20 and was ready to leave. Julia hated every minute of school so we allowed her to leave at 18. We are doing FMS as there is no other option through PDD at this time. We still have no staff for Julia and it’s already the middle of October. PDD takes 8 – 10 weeks to do anything with a request. We started the staffing request process in August. It was just approved on October 4th.

  3. This is a global wide issue of supports that are not available or have long lists for those who are transitioning to adulthood. That is why we are following the Meticulon model in Calgary here in BC with Focus Ability WorkAble Solutions .

    • Pearl, Meticulon only caters to the highest functioning individuals – top 1%. I am very disappointed at the options available for my children who are not the top 1%. Both my children are employable and have been working since they were 11 and 13 but they don’t fit models like Meticulon where you have to do a resume and be able to complete a job interview. I am finding many employment programs are falling short as they are still following the neurotypical model of how to prepare and get a job. I guess that’s part of the reason why so many of our individuals on the spectrum remain unemployed.

  4. Linnea Good says:

    This is so helpful, Maureen. It is exactly what each one of us needs to do in life, actually: to ask ourself what a full, rich adult life is made of. I would add 2 things: 1) service to others. I think we are unhappy until we know that we are making a contribution to the wellbeing of our neighbours. 2) spiritual connection. We need a sense of being connected to that which is greater than ourselves. So, it is critical to have the regular opportunity to explore the “meaning” questions – with others or on our own. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • Linnea, I think you have touched on some important points. I think the volunteering piece does address the making a contribution in service of others. My children have been volunteering at a Farmers’ Market for 7 years now. Spiritual connection can mean many things to different people which is why I did not touch on it. I am glad you liked the article and yes – it really applies to all adults. I try to make people realize that even with a diagnosis, the things we all want in life are generally the same. It takes out the “mystery” of planning and searching for things that would work.

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