Graduating into the World of Adult Services

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused


By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA

Graduation season is upon us, and young adults across the country are looking forward to this milestone. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other special needs, their graduation from special education programs into adult services occurs when they reach the age of 22. It’s an exciting and challenging time for these young men and women and those who support them.

In Massachusetts, planning for a student’s transition to adult services usually begins when he (or she) turns 14. At this time, the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team starts to focus on developing a Vision Statement. This vision for the student’s future will be broad in scope and will change as needed, but it does help him begin to think about the kinds of skills he will need to learn to achieve his goals. Once they have developed the Vision Statement, team members will identify and describe goals that will help the student start to learn the skills he will need as he approaches adulthood.

Students with disabilities who receive special education services should be active participants in the transition process, if possible. For individuals with more severe disabilities, the family or guardian will take a more active role at this time. It is very important that the person’s desires and strengths are not forgotten or discounted. The entire IEP team should discuss and plan for the student’s future by seriously contemplating where he will live, what kind of vocational or community-based day programming would interest him, what relationships are important to him, and how he will get around in the community. To meet the person’s unique needs in these areas, family members and other individuals supporting him will need to understand the resources and benefits that are available to him. This requires a considerable amount of preparation, determination, knowledge, and strong advocacy work.

If you are supporting a young adult who is transitioning into adulthood, the best thing to do is to network with other people who are currently going through or have already gone through the transition process. Having a community of people to talk with who understand the complexities of the process is invaluable. Do not panic if you do not have a strong transition support network. There are many community and advocacy groups available locally that can help guide you. These groups can help you better understand the endless new terminology, laws, eligibility requirements, and the dreaded new acronyms. Your current IEP team should also give you guidance and provide you with information about timelines for referrals to appropriate human service agencies, applying for eligibility, and the intake process. Do not be afraid to ask questions and actively advocate for support when you feel it is needed.

The transition to adulthood is a huge milestone not only for young adults with special needs, but also for those involved in supporting them. What we may forget is that these young men and women with special needs have overcome countless challenges before their 22nd birthdays. Through the years, they have learned about self-advocacy, making choices, developing empathy for themselves and others, planning, managing emotions, what it means to be a friend, and how to overcome adversity. In other words, they have become resilient. This resilience will serve them well as they begin the journey into adulthood, as will your continued guidance and support. Arming yourself with information about the transition process and what to expect from adult service providers will help calm your fears and ensure their success.

Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Clinical Director for the May Center for Adults Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield, Mass., at 413-734-0300 (ext. 262) or at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit