Helping Teens with Autism Succeed in High School and Beyond

Date: 
March 20, 2014
Researchers develop strategies for educating teens with autism under Common Core State Standards; preparing for postsecondary success

Researchers at the University of North Carolina have published guidelines for helping high-schoolers with autism meet Common Core State Standards, with the promise of boosting prospects for college and employment.

Their recommendations appear in Remedial and Special Education: Autism, Adolescence, and High School.

In 2010, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers released the core standards for English and mathematics, to better prepare students for college and careers. While the Common Core curriculum outlines expectations of what educators should teach, it provides no guidance on how to teach these skills to students with autism. 

Many educators find that they’re not prepared to adapt their instruction methods to meet both state standards and the diverse needs of students with autism, says lead author Veronica Fleury, of UNC’s Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

“College enrollment of people with autism is among the lowest for all categories of disabilities,” Dr. Fleury adds. “In addition, less than 40 percent of the population with autism is employed—and most of those with jobs only work part-time, without benefits.”

Effective high-school instruction requires understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of students with autism, Dr. Fleury notes. For example, many individuals with autism process language at a slower rate. Yet many have enhanced visual processing. Some have difficulty performing calculations, while others are mathematically gifted.

In coming years, opportunities in the field of science, technology, engineering and math may provide important career paths for many with autism. Research has shown that many college students with autism gravitate to these majors. This highlights the need for high schools to equip these students with the skills that will enable them to compete and achieve, experts agree.

“While the very structure of high school poses challenges for students with autism, being able to anticipate and understand activities, schedules, and expectations can improve their ability to respond to classroom demands,” Dr. Fleury says. “Establishing routines and creating written schedules also helps.”

In the new special issue Dr. Fleury and her co-authors outline a number of strategies along these lines. They include exposing students with ASD to assignments before presenting the material in class. The researchers also noted a variety of techniques for delivering the highly explicit instruction that teenagers with autism require. These include mnemonic devices for remembering steps in a task.

“High school students with ASD also need ample opportunities to practice skills across settings throughout the school day,” she says. “Teaching them to monitor their own behavior can help them to use their skills in a variety of settings.”

“We know that when students with autism receive appropriate instruction and supports, many of them are capable of learning academic content that is aligned with state standards,” she adds. “And better academic performance often leads to a more successful outcome after high school.”

Read more in these open-access articles from the special issue:

* “Introduction to the Special Issue

* “Addressing the Academic Needs of Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Secondary Education

* “Applying an Implementation Science Framework for Adoption of a Comprehensive Program for High School Students With Autism Spectrum Disorder

* “Supporting Independence in Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum

* “Promoting Social Competence and Peer Relationships for Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorders

* “The Roles and Needs of Families of Adolescents With ASD

* “Equipping Youth With Autism Spectrum Disorders for Adulthood: Promoting Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships

Also see Autism Speaks Postsecondary Educational Opportunities Guide, with information to help teens and young adults with autism explore the options available for life after high school. Follow the text link to download free of charge.

Learn how the world will Light It Up Blue for Autism Awareness on April 2.