Planning for Life After High School

High school teachers and staff often feel the reality of “borrowed time.” This may be true because the concept of planning for and enacting strong transition plans is a focus of a lot of time and energy in the secondary realm. For special educators devoted to the independence and success of those students with disabilities, sometimes it can feel like time is running out. The U.S Department of Labor (2017) offers bleak numbers on the employment of people with disabilities.  Of the number of adults over the age of 16, people with disabilities make up about 20% of the work force, compared to 68% of people without disabilities. This is not an issue unique to the United States. Howlin, Goode, Hutton, and Rutter (2004) looked at a subset of 68 adults with autism and found that only one-third of them were employed, and only 13% had found competitive employment (i.e., employers who pay at least the minimum wage). In another workforce study, Wilcyznski, Trammell, and Clarke (2013) found that, surprisingly, adults with high functioning autism were unlikely to attain competitive employment. Furthermore, only six to ten percent of adults with ASD are employed in competitive settings.

What can secondary teachers do to combat these statistics and enhance transition plans? Lee & Carter (2012) offer several educational components to bolster vocational and transition planning. These include:

  • Take a strength-based and individualized approach to transition planning and instruction
  • Create positive work experiences
  • Collaborate with job coaches and other staff responsible for arranging work experiences and reporting on students’ progress
  • Involve families as much as possible to establish expectations and a strong support network
  • Teach for independence!
  • Provide social skills training and practice opportunities in a variety of settings

The Links curriculum affords opportunities to incorporate all six of these components into your students’ instruction. The Lesson Assessment is the first step in assessing which skills your students have mastered (i.e., generalized into routines) and where they need to go next. Matching curriculum to the students’ instructional level is the first step in utilizing a strength-based and individualized approach.

Setting up positive and preferred work experiences may take a little more work to create as we are more accustomed to teaching traditional subject matter, but many of these experiences can be simulated in the classroom environment if community engagement is not yet feasible. We currently offer a cooking simulation that may appeal to some students with interests in the restaurant business. Even if the provided simulations are not quite what you are looking for, please refer to them as a guide on your journey. Remember, we are always working to create additional simulation materials!  

Of course, once students are either out in the community or participating in classroom simulations, we know that it is important to identify what the students can do and where they need additional teaching and practice. Many teachers are not able to leave their classrooms and participate in the community worksite experience; the Observed Routine Assessment data form is a great way to track progress as well as to keep communication open between worksite staff and teachers back in the classroom. It is also an excellent form to review with parents and to obtain their input about specific skills that they might want to include in instruction. Families may also provide insight into the supports that may be needed to best serve their student. For example, a parent might report that video modeling for a complex chain of skills has been effective for their student. It’s a good thing that Lesson 131 provides a how-to for video modeling! Additionally, please check out our vocational routines that are available at the click of a mouse. If you find that issues related to resolving conflicts or merely demonstrating appropriate social skills arise, you might want to refer to lesson 132, Social Scripts, or see if the Resolving Conflicts with Peers task analysis will suit your student. Be sure to attend to the Engaging in Diverse Activities column in the Lesson Assessments as our lessons explicitly target many of the skills needed for the transition into the workforce and into the community at large. Have a happy April and a wonderful spring term!

Click here to view the Changing Activities Tools – Responding to an Unexpected Change Social Script


Cimera, R.E., & Cowan, R.J. (2009). The costs of services and employment outcomes achieved by adults with autism in the United States. Autism, 13, 285-302. 

Howlin, P., Goode, S., Hutton, J., & Rutter, M. (2004). Adult outcomes for children with autism. Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 212-229.

Lee, G.K., & Carter, E.W. (2012). Preparing transition-aged students with high functioning autism spectrum disorders for meaningful work. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 988-1000.

Wilcyznski, S.M., Trammell, B., & Clarke, L.S. (2013). Improving employment outcomes among adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum. Psychology in the Schools, 50, 876-877.