Barriers to the Implementation of Effective Transition Services for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Friday, May 3, 2019: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
L. Corona, M. Rinaldi and K. V. Christodulu, Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, Albany, NY
Background: In the years following high school, young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) report lower rates of employment, post-secondary education, and independent living than do individuals with other disabilities (Newman et al., 2011). Though evidence-based practices exist to support individuals with disabilities generally during the transition from high school to post-school education or employment, little research has focused on evidence-based practices specifically targeting high school students with ASD (Test, Smith, & Carter, 2014). Current literature summarizes recommended best practices for preparing adolescents with ASD for transition (e.g., Gerhardt & Lainer, 2011), yet these recommendations are implemented inconsistently at best (Carter et al., 2010). The present study utilized a qualitative approach to investigate barriers to the implementation of effective transition services for adolescents with ASD.

Objectives: The primary objective of the present study was to document barriers impacting the implementation of best-practice transition services for adolescents with ASD, from the perspective of multiple stakeholders. In particular, the present study sought to describe challenges unique to individuals with ASD during the transition period.

Methods: A series of focus group discussions were held to access the perspectives of parents of adolescents and young adults with ASD, as well as school and community professionals working with individuals with ASD. Focus groups were homogenous with respect to stakeholder group (i.e., parents, school professionals, community professionals). Focus group transcripts were analyzed using a constant comparative approach (Boeije, 2002), resulting in a series of themes representing an array of barriers to transition planning and transition services.

Results: Analysis of focus group transcripts yielded 21 separate themes. Nine themes were related specifically to challenges associated with core symptoms or associated characteristics of ASD, such as social challenges, independent living skills, and self-determination. Ten of the themes focused on challenges or barriers existing at the systems level, either within families, within school or agency systems, or in interactions among these systems. These included service availability and access, limited knowledge about ASD, and challenges finding appropriate employment. The remaining two themes highlighted the importance of interpersonal relationships and the challenge of burnout. Examining the frequency of references to specific themes across stakeholder groups indicated that similar patterns emerged in the discussions of parents, school professionals, and community professionals.

Conclusions: The barriers described by focus group participants answer not only the question “What interferes with the implementation of transition services?” but also the question “What barriers are transition services not addressing for individuals with ASD?” The implementation of best practice transition services is hindered by limited availability of such services, a lack of personnel to provide them, and uneven knowledge about ASD, among other challenges. However, there also do not exist sufficient services to address the full range of challenges associated with the characteristics of ASD. For instance, existing transition services typically do not include mental health services, instruction in independent living skills, or executive functioning strategies. As efforts to improve transition services and outcomes continue, it will be important to consider and address the barriers described by stakeholders.