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Prepping students with autism for life after K-12

A number of strategies exist to help students with autism transition to the post-high school world

autism-secondaryTransitioning to higher education or the workforce is a challenge for most K-12 students, but it can be more challenging for students with autism as they learn to navigate new environments.

Educators can use a number of instructional strategies to help their secondary students with autism prepare for the transition out of high school and into higher education or the workforce.

When focusing on middle and high school, the instructional focus should be on the skills that students will need to find employment, said Joel Arick, Professor Emeritus at Portland State University and an educator, researcher, and trainer in the field of autism for more than 30 years. Arick is the lead author of the Strategies for Teaching based-on Autism Research Program and Links Curriculum.

Part of that instruction lies in establishing routines.

(Next page: Establishing routines for students with autism)

Routines can be important for a number of independent activities, such as writing checks, interviewing for jobs, using public transportation, and purchasing items.

Students will use academic skills such as money management, telling time, and reading/writing as they become more independent. Communication skills are critical, as are social skills to help young adults with autism recognize questionable situations, interact with others at work and during leisure activities, and be responsible.

Schools should be able to give students instruction that will support students as they transition to the post-secondary world.

The focus of the instruction should include independence, self-determination, post-secondary transition, and employability.

The content of instruction should include routines and activities that students do throughout the day, as well as lessons and foundational skills students will need to perform those routines independently.

Establishing routines leads to independence, and foundational skills help to establish those routines that will help students with autism become independent.

Routine instruction can help a wide range of learners.

Students with more significant needs will learn daily living skills, self-care, social skills, academics, and vocational routines. Students who need support to access the general education curriculum will focus on work completion, organizational skills, transition, social skills, and general skills during daily school activities.

This kind of routine instruction helps students transitioning to post-secondary settings by setting them up with skills needed to interview for a job, manage money, use social skills, use vocational skills, and use public transportation.

Foundational skills students should learn include:

  • Expressive/receptive language
  • Academics in the context of daily life routines
  • Social communication
  • Complex vocational tasks
  • Functional daily routines

Teaching sequencing of events, and pre-teaching routines they’ll need to do throughout their day, and reinforcing that with pictures or visuals will help students learn routines.

The National Autism Center put out a report that identifies 11 effective practices for working with students who have autism, Evidence-Based Practice and Autism in the Schools, which educators might find helpful.

Effective instructional methods that Arick said are particularly helpful with secondary students with autism, and that are supported by research from the National Autism Center and other research organizations, include:

  • Principles of applied behavior analysis
  • Task analysis
  • Self-management techniques
  • Augmentative communication systems
  • Prompting strategies
  • Positive behavior supports and strategies

STAR came up with a process used to teach routines:
1. Select the routine you want to teach
2. Individualize the routines
3. Assess routines by watching the student do the routines
4. Teach links lessons
5. Track student progress
6. Re-evaluate

When it comes to cues to have success with routines, pairing natural cues with instructional cues can help students learn to complete the task with the natural cue only.

Instructional cues can begin with simple cues, such as modeling, and progress to more complex cues, such as multiple step directions. Identifying appropriate instructional cues is the key to consistency among educators and instructional staff, and moving from instructional cues to natural cues is the key to independence.

Overall, routine instruction should focus on four areas.

Student response: What step do you want the student to complete?

Pre-teaching: Skill acquisition; how will you teach the student the skills needed for this step?

During routine teaching: Instruction should include prompting/fading strategies, reinforcement strategies, and data collection to guide instruction.

Environmental supports: Provide supports throughout the routine, including environment (room arrangement), tasks (task strips), and time (visual schedules).

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Laura Ascione

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