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George Fox and Lesley Copland look at supporting young people with autism in the transition to an adult placement or moving home after education

Transitioning to adult life after education can be a difficult time for anyone, but for people with autism and SEN, the challenge of making such a drastic change can be even greater.

Preparation for making this move is something which can be woven into daily life for young people early in their learning and can continue to develop throughout their education. 

With the use of individualised waking day curriculums and the development of daily living, social and vocational skills, individuals can be supported to self-manage behaviour, communicate, make choices and, therefore, manage transitions successfully. 

An individualised approach

No two people with autism are the same and each person will have different abilities, strengths and interests, triggers and difficulties. This means that the same approach will not work for everyone and a person-centred, individualised approach is key to success. What success looks like will also vary greatly from one person to the next. This could mean transitioning back to the family home for one individual, while for another it could mean moving on to a supported adult placement.  

The whole person-centred approach means that an understanding of an individual doesn’t come through educational assessment alone, but through looking at the wider picture. Fundamental to a tailored curriculum for someone with autism or SEN is the ability to understand their skills, interests and motivations, and how best to foster, develop and support these for a successful future, which could include work placements and appropriate accreditation.

Balance and boundaries

Part of the process in preparing young people for adult life is to help them become comfortable with boundaries and social norms that they will encounter in the world outside school or college. Creating a fake environment which overly shelters the individual from the realities of life can be counter-productive in the long run. For example, while the individual can be nurtured in the areas in which they have a particular interest, there must also be some balance between what they like to do and tasks they have to do. 

It can also be about learning social skills and working alongside or in collaboration with colleagues in a workplace environment; one young lady with severe autism I work with has a paid work placement in a laundry. She is very capable of carrying out the tasks, but is very motivated by music and singing. For her, the challenge was to understand that she couldn’t always have her favourite radio station on while she was working alongside others because that wouldn’t be possible in the outside world. She is learning that things can’t always be on her own terms.

Practical application of skills

Learning doesn’t have to stop at 16 or 19 and often young adults are more ready to learn after these ages, once their hormones have settled down a little. This is where the development of vocational skills comes to the fore; opportunities such as work placements can give young people a chance to try things and learn transferrable skills. Again, it is essential to focus on their abilities – what they enjoy and can do – instead of concentrating on what they can’t do.

As well as developing vocational skills, academic skills can also be channeled in more functional and meaningful ways. For example, activities could focus on maths skills being learnt in context, perhaps with practical and hands-on activities out in the community, such as shopping and paying for goods. Having practiced within familiar learning environments, the application of these skills during offsite community visits can help develop greater independence and self-sufficiency (depending on the learner’s level of ability). In the same way, it’s a good idea for young people to be able to enjoy leisure activities out in the community, and develop social skills. 

Learning in the community is very important for all young people and helps them to experience learning opportunities in functional and meaningful contexts which they can develop and build on over time. The practical application of skills in the “real world” can help prepare for transitioning to adult life by showing young people how to cope with changing environments.

Planning the move

If you are looking to secure an adult placement for a young person, remember that it can be incredibly difficult to get back into the system once they have come out of it, so it’s highly preferable to transition from one placement to the next without delay. With that in mind, being well prepared is key, and it’s always a good idea to look earlier than you need to due to the length of time it can take to have a suitable placement agreed and secured. 

Finding the right placement can be a minefield, but you can help to simplify your choices by measuring each option against your set criteria to identify which ones tick the most boxes. I advise parents to have an ideal list in mind, but they should be prepared to compromise as the ideal placement isn’t always possible. 

Each local authority is different, but it’s a good idea to check what your funding authority is suggesting, as you’ll be more likely to get a placement if you’re both in agreement. State the reasons why you’re for or against the suggested option so that you can justify your preferences and suitability. If you get your ideal placement, and the timing isn’t exactly as you’d hoped, go for it anyway rather than risk losing that place. 

As a parent or carer of a young adult with autism and SEN, supporting them through a transition to adult life can be daunting, but it’s also a great milestone with exciting opportunities. Transitioning to adult life is normal, and young people with autism and SEN should be allowed to progress to adulthood just the same as a child without SEN would – just with additional and appropriate support.  

Reflecting the needs of the individual is key to ensuring a smooth transition; some will need to visit their new provision several times before moving over. In order to share information and expertise, collaboration between both placements and the local authority is crucial. It’s also important to phase in/out staff from both settings post-transition in order to ensure some continuity and make the change as smooth and stress free as possible for the young person. 

Whether a young adult with SEN and autism is moving back to the family home, or on to a new placement, the key will be to understand and accommodate that person’s needs and preferences. While change inevitably brings challenges, with the right support and a consistent and familiar approach, the transition can be very positive. Getting the foundations right with a young person’s learning should help to pave the way for moving on when the time comes, and can support a bright and successful future. 

Further information 

Lesley Copland is Education Lead (Further Education) and George Fox Education Lead (Year 11 to 14) at Prior’s Court Foundation, which runs a specialist residential school and young adult provision:
www.priorscourt.org.uk

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