So now your son or daughter is somewhere between 21 and 26. Your child has had all the advantages possible while in school – early assessment; psychological, academic, and social interventions; family and community supports; expert evaluations and counseling. Your child completed elementary, middle, and high school, and probably even some post-secondary schooling. And now what...
You and your family have gone through a range of emotions. Worried as to why your child, while a youngster, was different from peers. Anxious to find out if this was a passing phase he or she would grow out of. Depressed at the professional conclusion that this is Asperger’s. Anger that this could happen. Self-blame that you should have done something different somewhere along the developmental line. You became invested in assuring your child received all the up-to-date professional and educational services available through the schools, through the community, and through your newly-found network of supports. You accommodated to the reality and became an expert on Asperger’s, reading the research and learning everything you could about treatments and interventions. And now what…
Now your child has finished school and aged out of the available educational supports. You are now faced with another challenge – how will your child transition to adulthood and an independent life. Though this can feel very daunting, it actually is not completely different from families of neurotypical young adults who finish college and move back home. Framing it in this way, you can normalize the transitional tasks, as far as possible.
What a 20-something young adult with Asperger’s, who has completed his or her education and aged out of the support system needs next is a vocational path. Throughout the school years, and especially during high school, this has been discussed, and anticipated. Now it’s time to address it. Questions arise as to what type of work - what is suitable given the person’s abilities, interests, and limitations. And then there’s the consideration of what is available, given the economy and competition for jobs.
So next steps….
1. Consult with a certified vocational counselor to review previous assessments, such as cognitive ability, interest inventories, standardized psychological assessments, especially those completed within the past five years. The counselor will advise if any of these need to be updated, or other assessments performed. Discussions around the outcomes of these assessments will help frame the next steps.
2. Review with the counselor the educational and vocational progress to date. What worked, and what didn’t. What jobs or internships has the person had and how did this experience work out. It might be that the individual is now ready for a job-specific training program. Alternatively the counselor might recommend an internship or job try-out situation.
3. Arrange for job coaching. This is the most critical aspect of vocational development for someone with Asperger’s. A well-trained job coach is invaluable to the success of this transition - a caring and knowledgeable adult presence, advising the individual, giving tips, outlining specific behavioral interventions, interfacing with the employer, and, with permission, reporting to the family. Job coaching is on-going and lengthy. It is intensive at first, then less so over time. It will be a commitment for the family, but is the best practice.
These prescriptions might be covered through your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. Some families might already have engaged the VR system in their state. Alternatively, families might choose to pay for these services directly. The family should be aware that job coaching is an extended support, and might not be covered entirely by a government benefit. But job coaching has been shown to have a very positive impact on helping a young adult with Asperger’s learn to thrive in the workplace and achieve the greatest self-sufficiency possible.
Dr. Les Halpert is the President & CEO at ICD.