Autism after high school

October 27, 2014 by Jenny Wells, University of Kentucky
UK College of Education Professor Lisa Ruble (back right) and her research team.

Melanie Tyner-Wilson is facing one of her toughest battles yet. She wants nothing more than to help her son Jay Tyner-Wilson, who is a person with autism, land his first real job.

Public school provided opportunities for Jay to gain volunteer vocational experience. There, he discovered he enjoyed working with animals—and school offered a repetitive, structured and routine environment.  But Jay is 21 years old now and aged out of the school system in May.

"The challenge is now finding a job," says his mother. "That's the golden ticket that I'm trying to figure out."

Jay did not qualify for an official high school diploma, so the path to or career is a tricky one. Melanie laments that many people with disabilities end up living in poverty unless they have families and other resources that can save and plan for them. With an ever-increasing number of on the autism spectrum coming through the school pipeline, questions abound as to what they can do to build a life for themselves beyond school.

A new study at the University of Kentucky College of Education helps frame the conversation around this transition. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has awarded a $693,000 grant to College of Education Professor Lisa Ruble and a cross-disciplinary team of co-investigators at UK and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

"This funding will allow us to find ways to help reduce or eliminate the disconnect from needed services that often occurs when students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) complete school," Ruble says.

Lisa Ruble, bottom right, and her research team.

Melanie says her son is a person with multiple skills that would be of value to an employer, but who would need additional support.

"The powerful thing about this study is that it brings national attention to it beyond just some parent like me saying 'oh dear, my poor child,'" she says. "It is exciting because when something gets researched, it gets attention and it counts. It formalizes things and forces people to begin to pay more attention in this area. We have all kinds of people like my son Jay in the far reaches of this state and we need to figure out how we are going to meet their needs and give them a quality of life." 

The study will further the research team's previous work with an intervention called the "Collaborative Model for Promoting Competence and Success" (COMPASS) for young children with ASD. COMPASS is a parent-teacher consultation model that has been shown to empower teachers, families, and above all, students, by improving educational outcomes.

While the work with COMPASS has been successful for young students, it will need to be adapted, based on stakeholder input, for students nearing adulthood and preparing to complete high school. Once adopted, it will be tested in a of 32 participants. Additional variables to help understand factors that explain optimal and poor outcomes will be obtained.

Jay has been receiving services at the UK College of Education ever since he was a pre-school student at the college's Early Childhood Lab. He participates in services offered through the college's CASPER center such as social skills training and small group programs. Through the years, Jay has had the opportunity to interact with many of the college's faculty and students.

"UK is conducting research and training all these people who are going into careers to help those with autism," Ruble says. "It is uplifting because I know every student who goes through these programs helps raise the state and nation's capacity to provide services to children and adults with ASD. We need to continue to keep doing better."

Melanie is involved with the Autism Society of the Bluegrass, which is a caregiver support and advocacy group. She has had an opportunity to meet many individuals on the autism continuum. These individuals have a wide range of abilities—some attend college, but many struggle to find employment.

"While many on the continuum have achieved postsecondary education and/or employment, there continues to be a significant number that struggle," she says. "The challenge is how we are going to plan and get what we need for these individuals."

For now, Jay is putting in lots of volunteer hours in pursuit of "the good life."

"I'm doing the same thing any parent would want for their child," his mother says. "We want to make sure our children are okay after we are gone. With Jay, it's a more involved, complicated plan.  I think it's possible. I have got to figure out as a parent how to do it.

"It's been really humbling to be on this journey with my son, and it's probably the hardest thing I have ever done in life. It's also an honor because he's just an amazing person and has taught me so much as a parent."

Explore further: Collaborative model for promoting competence and success for students with ASD

Related Stories

Collaborative model for promoting competence and success for students with ASD

October 18, 2012
Students with autism have the best chances of success in school through an individualized education model that involves teachers, service providers and parents, according to a new book co-authored by John McGrew, Ph.D., and ...

Parent coaching early intervention program benefits young children with autism

October 2, 2014
A parent coaching intervention brings meaningful benefits for preschool-aged children with autism-spectrum disorders (ASD), according to a clinical trial in the October Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the ...

New program for students with autism offers hope after high school

March 5, 2014
An innovative program from UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and 6 partner universities is preparing students with autism for life after high school.

Planning a better future for people with autism

August 27, 2014
In the world of special education, transition is the move from school to adult life. For most of us that move can be awkward, but for people with disabilities—particularly autism—it is especially complex.

Strategies for teaching common core to teens with autism show promise

March 19, 2014
Scientists at UNC's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) report that high school students with autism can learn under Common Core State Standards (CCSS), boosting their prospects for college and employment. ...

1 in 3 autistic young adults lack jobs, education

May 14, 2012
(AP) -- One in 3 young adults with autism have no paid job experience, college or technical schooling nearly seven years after high school graduation, a study finds. That's a poorer showing than those with other disabilities ...

Recommended for you

Nearly imperceptible fluctuations in movement correspond to autism diagnoses

January 17, 2018
A new study led by researchers at Indiana University and Rutgers University provides the strongest evidence yet that nearly imperceptible changes in how people move can be used to diagnose neurodevelopmental disorders, including ...

Epigenetics study helps focus search for autism risk factors

January 16, 2018
Scientists have long tried to pin down the causes of autism spectrum disorder. Recent studies have expanded the search for genetic links from identifying genes toward epigenetics, the study of factors that control gene expression ...

Being bilingual may help autistic children

January 16, 2018
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have a hard time switching gears from one task to another. But being bilingual may actually make it a bit easier for them to do so, according to a new study which was recently ...

No rise in autism in US in past three years: study

January 2, 2018
After more than a decade of steady increases in the rate of children diagnosed with autism in the United States, the rate has plateaued in the past three years, researchers said Tuesday.

Autism therapy: Brain stimulation restores social behavior in mice

December 13, 2017
Scientists are examining the feasibility of treating autistic children with neuromodulation after a new study showed social impairments can be corrected by brain stimulation.

Social phobia linked to autism and schizophrenia

December 11, 2017
New Swinburne research shows that people who find social situations difficult tend to have similar brain responses to those with schizophrenia or autism.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.