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Schools are serving more students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) than ever before. Early detection and interventions are proven paths to success, but programs designed to help students with ASD often concentrate on providing early intervention. By the time a young adult with ASD faces high school graduation, he or she may have gone years without interventions to prepare for transitioning into the job market or going to college.

Professor Colleen Reutebuch, director of the Reading Institute at the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at UT Austin’s College of Education, wanted to investigate the relationship between high school interventions and post-graduation success for students with ASD.  With colleagues from Vanderbilt and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Reutebuch recently published a study that did just that, titled Addressing the Needs of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Considerations and Complexities for High School Interventions.

Students at a career fair.Working on behalf of The Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA), Reutebuch and her team analyzed data from 28 focus groups across four states.

“This study was unique in that feedback from stakeholders was used to design and investigate a comprehensive school- and community-based treatment model for adolescents with ASD,” explained Reutebuch. That feedback offered jarring, though not surprising, results. Participants—a representative mix of stakeholders—underlined the inadequacy of current supports for students with autism. Participants agreed that reliable, replicable teaching methods and supports during high school could drastically improve education, employment, and quality of life outcomes after graduation.

But individualized attention is, on its own, not enough. The study also pinpointed a need for education professionals to work together, behind the scenes, as a unified team of well-trained advocates for students with ASD. “Misinformation about ASD and how to address the educational needs and supports for individuals on the spectrum need to be addressed,” notes Reutebuch. “For the project team, this was important because it indicated a need to disseminate information about ASD, and to incorporate capacity building into professional development for educators and staff.”

With support from educators, family, and the community throughout their school years, evidence points to the likelihood that students with ASD are more likely to attend college and pursue meaningful employment.

“High schools can and should play a more significant role in preparing adolescents with ASD for success in post-school settings,” remarked Reutebuch. “Education and services in high school contribute greatly to an individual’s quality of life and, based on our findings, it is clear that there is tremendous room for improvement.”

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