Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Interdisciplinary Professional Development Needs of Transition Professionals Serving Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Academic journal article The Journal of Rehabilitation

Interdisciplinary Professional Development Needs of Transition Professionals Serving Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Article excerpt

Recent research studies suggested that efforts to coordinate comprehensive student services across a school and community could have a significantly positive impact for students with disabilities. Such an interdisciplinary approach could bring together K-12 special education, state VR resources, and other transition professionals to maximize outcomes for students. The interdisciplinary approach may be especially effective for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder of transition age, who often experience disorder-specific challenges that directly influence outcomes for employment and postsecondary education. Though interventions and supports specifically targeted for individuals with ASD are associated with improved outcomes, especially in the areas of employment and education (Cimera, Burgess, & Wiley, 2013; Ferguson, Cross, O'Neill, & McCaffrey, 2015; Hendricks, 2010; Roux et al., 2015; Wade, 2014; Wehman et al., 2014a; Wehman et al., 2016), it is unclear what specific competencies are needed by transition professionals to successfully support the unique needs of students with ASD. As well, the type and level of ASD-specific training currently completed by transition professionals is unclear (Mazzotti & Plotner, 2016; Morningstar & Benitez, 2013; Plotner & Fleming, 2014; Rowe et al., 2013). In addition, it is reasonable to assume that transition professionals must also develop the competencies needed to manage and participate in an interdisciplinary approach.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder characterized by varied impairments in social/communicative behavior and a limited range of interests. Research about ASD-specific transition supports often focuses on social/communication differences, which are considered definitive of the disorder; however, it should be noted that individuals with ASD are also challenged with resistance to change and a strong preference for routine (Dawson, Sterling, & Faja, 2009).

Despite the commonality of social/communication differences, individual differences among individuals diagnosed with ASD are vast; variations in the severity of impairment, adaptive/maladaptive behaviors, functional skills, social/communication deficit, and other factors can significantly impact employment and postsecondary education outcomes (Matthews et al., 2015; Roux et al., 2013; Shattuck et al., 2012; Taylor & Mailick, 2014; Taylor & Seltzer, 2011; Van Hees, Moyson, & Roeyers, 2015; Wehman et al., 2014b). Other disorder-specific challenges, which complicate the success of transition outcomes for students and youth with ASD, are comorbid conditions such as intellectual disability; anxiety; and depression (Barnhill, 2016; Robinson et al., 2012; Roux et al., 2015; Shochet et al., 2016). Indeed, over half of individuals aged 15-17 years who are diagnosed with ASD also struggle with ADHD and anxiety, and 38 percent present with comorbid intellectual disability. A smaller group of individuals navigating transition services report comorbid depression (24 percent). Research suggests a need for disorder-specific instruction and support for individuals with ASD who are of transition age to address these complex challenges.

Transition Planning for Individuals With ASD

In-school transition planning has been successful through curriculum specifically targeted to students with ASD (please see Hurlbutt & Handler, 2013; Khemka, Hickson, & Mallory 2016; Myers, Davis, Stobbe, & Bjornson, 2015 and others). School-based transition services for individuals with disabilities are defined in detail in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA). The IDEIA particularly defines transition for students with disabilities as a results-oriented process, which should be based on the individual student's needs and include instruction-related services, community experiences, the development of employment/adult living objectives, and acquisition of daily living skills (IDEIA, 2004; 20 U. …

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