Posted by Darlene Bowman on Apr 19, 2023

What does the future hold for young adults with autism? What does “Transition” actually mean? How are we preparing students for life after high school? 

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Autism Acceptance Month is a wonderful time to focus on the progress that’s been made in addressing the education needs of K-12 students with autism. I am so happy to have spent most of my career teaching computer science in a school that prepares neurodivergent students with autism and other cognitive learning/communication differences for their future.

A graduate cap that reads, "The world needs all kinds of minds." A logo for autism awareness month is the "O" in World

Much of my professional experience was spent teaching “Alternate Assessment” students. This means that the students do not take state standardized exams, and instead use alternate assessment methods that allow students with severe cognitive learning differences to demonstrate their performance towards achieving NYS standards in ELA, Math, and Science.

Alternate Assessment students receive a certificate of completion at age 21, and do not graduate with a diploma that would allow them to seek higher education. This fact alone can lead to a diminished ability to seek and obtain employment opportunities — even in computer science.

So that leaves me with three key questions:

  • What does the future hold for young adults with autism? 
  • What does “Transition” actually mean? 
  • How are we preparing students for life after high school? 

“The vast majority of autistic adults living in the US continue to be unemployed, do not have the opportunity to live independently, report feeling socially isolated, and have significant physical/mental health challenges”. (Rutgers, Center For Adult Autism Services)

Life After High School

Transitioning from high school to adulthood can be a challenging time for any young person — take it from me — I have 4 (pardon the oxymoron) adult children. But it can be especially difficult for young adults with autism.

Don’t get me wrong, some graduates are ready to be done with the same routine they’ve had from ages 4 to 21. But once the novelty of no more early morning wakeups and long bus rides wear off, what is out there for them?

One of the biggest challenges for people with autism is the lack of structure and routine that comes with leaving high school. While in school, students’ days were often carefully planned out, with set schedules, socialization built into the school day, and expectations for what they needed to accomplish. Once they leave high school, students are often left to navigate a more open-ended world with fewer (if any) supports in place, limited opportunities for socialization, and high levels of unemployment and isolation.

An even more pervasive challenge is the LACK of opportunities for continued vocational training that could lead to internships, employment and career opportunities.

Lastly, there are too few opportunities for independent living, socialization and outlets for creativity.

What Can Teachers Do?

Teachers (and parents) really need to look at the opportunities that our students will have access to after high school and reverse engineer instruction to help them navigate those opportunities.

For instance, my school provided many levels of vocational training opportunities both in school and in the community. We partnered with organizations like:

  • Adaptive Design – where students built iPad holders, foot stools, seat wedges, to help people with disabilities work more comfortably.
  • Local Pizzerias – students folded pizza boxes by the hundreds in a two hour visit. 
  • Farming (yes – Staten Island still has farms!!) where students planted seeds, harvested and then sold fruits and vegetables in our school Farmer’s Market. We also used the harvest to teach cooking and food preparation skills.
  • CVS – Supermarkets – Best Buy – stocking shelves, greeting customers, pricing items.
  • Local Senator’s office – folding and mailing letters. One student in particular was able to feed 2 to 3 letters per second into the stamping machine.  No Other Student – with or without disabilities – could work that fast and efficiently. 
  • In-house we did document shredding, soap making, post cards, to name a few, and of course digital art, and technology.
  • Provide travel training. The ability to travel independently is life changing for students who can safely manage it.

What Can Universities Do

Create more programs so that these young adults — who often have neurotypical siblings in colleges — can attend campus-based programs. The first time my AusomeTech students walked across the college campus where our program is located, their moms and dads cried. They never expected to see their children independently navigating a college campus. And even though it is not a matriculating program of study, the students are filled with pride because they are with their peers, doing what teens and early twenties would be doing on campus!!

What Can Local Businesses Do 

Local businesses can do two really big things:

  • Provide opportunities for vocational training for high school students.  Don’t worry, the students are supervised by school staff, and more importantly — they WANT the experiences.  Let them surprise you with their strengths and abilities.
  • Offer employment opportunities to individuals who have trained with you  or partner with organizations that support people with disabilities. For example, Crunch Fitness offered employment opportunities for our graduates who could travel independently. So has Marshalls, CVS and a few local restaurants.
  • Employers can provide job coaching and training, create a supportive and inclusive work environment, modify job descriptions and provide accommodations as needed, like flexible schedules, physical work spaces, noise canceling headphones, lighting, etc.

Finally, it is important to remember that people with autism are individuals first and foremost, and that there is no “one size fits all” approach to supporting them during the transition to adulthood. 

By taking a person-centered approach and working closely with each individual to understand their unique needs and strengths, we can help ensure that they are able to thrive and succeed as they enter the next chapter of their lives.  Sometimes breaking down doors is not enough. We need to BUILD New Doors, as they transition into adulthood, to provide meaningful life experiences after high school.

About the Author

Darlene Bowman Headshot

Darlene Bowman, Founder of, is a highly trained and specialized teacher of young adults with Autism and other cognitive learning differences. She began her career as an NYC Teaching Fellow in the early 2000s and is also an adjunct Writing Professor at the College Of Staten Island. In 2015, Darlene earned a $75K technology grant through CS4ALL, enabling her school to start the first Software Engineering Program in a District 75 High School for students with Autism. This was life-changing for her students and opened doors to opportunities that they never knew existed for them.

Darlene has taught CS to hundreds of students with disabilities – and their teachers — before and during the pandemic. Now retired, Darlene serves as the current President of CSTA Staten Island Chapter. She also volunteers her time teaching Computer Science to students of all ages through her organization AusomeTech, focusing specifically on her graduates – “Techies With Autism” who no longer have access to meaningful CS education.