Young adults who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) without co-occurring intellectual impairment face a fairly unique set of challenges as they transition out of secondary school. These students are often quite capable of succeeding in higher education and many of them have interest in pursuing advanced degrees, but the nature of their disability and associated deficits (e.g., poor time management and poor self-regulation) may impede success. Individualized, appropriately timed, and developmentally sensitive transition and support services may promote realization of optimal outcomes for these young people. The goal of this project is to develop a comprehensive program to promote successful transition of students with ASD from high school to post-secondary education. We propose to refine and then evaluate a novel transition support and intervention program for adolescents and young adults with ASD: STEPS [Stepped Transition in Education Program for Students with ASD]. By targeting improved self-regulation (SR) and self-determination (SD) in young people with ASD, we assert that this program may have positive outcomes with respective to college adjustment and functional behavior. Although the program will be finalized during the first phase of the proposed project, STEPS is comprised of two levels (or steps), which match the student's particular needs in relation to transition planning. In Step 1, students facing transition (i.e., hve identified the college they will attend [either 2-year or 4-year institution] but are still in high school) and their caregivers will receive information to assist in transition planning, undergo readiness self-assessments to identify degree of preparedness for post-secondary school, and participate in interactive sessions online and in person to promote self-knowledge and determination. In Step 2, college students with ASD will receive fairly intensive supports and interventions, including individual counseling, structured support services, social integration activities, and coaching to promote academic and social success. Successful transition programming for students with ASD will be most effective if developed using a 'bottom up' additive approach, with the students' self-identified needs in mind. We therefore propose a two-phase project, first using a participatory process approach to develop the full program (Phase I) and then implementing the program in a small RCT (Phase II). During Phase I, we will iteratively refine the treatment based on consultation with the expert panel (via bi-weekly conference calls and site visits), and feedback from students with ASD and their families. The purpose of the RCT is to establish feasibility of implementation, acceptability to the end-users, and refine methodology (e.g., recruitment, retention) in preparation for a fully powered efficacy trial. The proposed research and its products (training materials, curriculum; also evidence of feasibility and preliminary efficacy) will help to advance current research and clinical/educational practice. This preliminary study represents the first, necessary step toward an evidence-based, user-friendly, and hopefully highly effective transition program for students with ASD.

Public Health Relevance

Young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) without co-occurring intellectual impairment face a unique set of challenges as they transition out of secondary school. Individualized, appropriately timed, and developmentally sensitive transition and support services may promote optimal outcomes for young people affected by this disorder. We propose to develop a comprehensive transition support and intervention program that will promote successful transition of students with ASD from high-school to post-secondary education.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Planning Grant (R34)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-K (05))
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Juliano-Bult, Denise M
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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Elias, Rebecca; White, Susan W (2018) Autism Goes to College: Understanding the Needs of a Student Population on the Rise. J Autism Dev Disord 48:732-746
White, Susan W; Elias, Rebecca; Capriola-Hall, Nicole N et al. (2017) Development of a College Transition and Support Program for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 47:3072-3078
Elias, Rebecca; Muskett, Ashley E; White, Susan W (2017) Educator perspectives on the postsecondary transition difficulties of students with autism. Autism :1362361317726246
White, Susan W; Elias, Rebecca; Salinas, Carlos E et al. (2016) Students with autism spectrum disorder in college: Results from a preliminary mixed methods needs analysis. Res Dev Disabil 56:29-40
White, Susan W; DiCriscio, Antoinette Sabatino (2015) Introduction to Special Issue ASD in Adulthood: Comorbidity and Intervention. J Autism Dev Disord 45:3905-7