Collaboration Addresses Transition to Adulthood for Autism Patients

“Cleveland Foundation commits $1M to improve outcomes”

July 14, 2023
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July 13, 2023 - CLEVELAND - A collaborative effort to improve the outcomes for youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) transitioning to adulthood has been awarded a total of $1 million over the next three years from the Cleveland Foundation. The grant will help to support the work of a three-year pilot in which The MetroHealth System, Autism Speaks and Milestones Autism Resources will partner to build a model of coordinated medical, behavioral and social transition planning that can be scaled and replicated in other locations, within Ohio and beyond.

ASD is a complex, life-long developmental disorder affecting how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates, and learns.

An estimated 50,000 adolescents with ASD exit high school each year in the U.S. As these numbers continue to increase, so will the pressing challenges that families face as their teenagers enter adulthood.

“We refer to this as “stepping off the service cliff,” said Melissa Armstrong-Brine, PhD, a clinical psychologist who directs MetroHealth’s Autism Assessment Clinic (MAAC) serving children, adolescents, and adults from a diverse urban population. “Transition services and supports are critical for young people with ASD to be successful and participate to the fullest extent possible in the broader community. Transition planning should start early.”

The first seed for the collaboration was planted when Autism Speaks reached out to the Cleveland Foundation in the spring of 2021 to talk about the looming service crisis precipitated by the unprecedented number of adolescents with ASD leaving high school and flooding the adult disability system. The Cleveland Foundation recommended the national autism organization collaborate with MetroHealth to leverage their complementary strengths to build an autism transition model focused on planning for adulthood.

“The foundation and its donors have supported services for ASD young people for decades,” said Dale Anglin, Vice President for Program at the Cleveland Foundation. “However, some of the hardest phone calls we’ve received in recent years have come from parents of young people who are about to or have already aged out of school systems and have not had access to quality transition services. We have been searching for a way to support these young people and their families and the partnership among these entities allows us to do that at scale.”

The grant will fund a joint effort between MetroHealth and Autism Speaks to develop a Transition Clinic with a specific focus on adolescents with ASD who are moving into adulthood. This will include providing care continuity for physical and mental health, stimulating meaningful opportunities in work and life, and building expertise and capacity for a comprehensive, community-centered transition pathway.

“One of the greatest challenges we see for teens and young adults on the spectrum is that they lack the tools and resources to help them reach their full potential. Unprepared to take on an unprepared world, too many of these young adults continue to live with their parents long into adulthood, and remain un- or underemployed,” said Keith Wargo, President & CEO at Autism Speaks. “We are thrilled to partner with MetroHealth and the Cleveland Foundation to better support the autistic community as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood; together, we will ensure that these individuals have access to resources that can guide them in finding purpose and forging a path forward.”

“The over-arching goal of the transition program is to deliver ‘whole-person’ care to autistic adolescents and adults, aged 14 to 26, who receive care through MAAC, are served through MetroHealth’s School Health Program or are referred for services from organizations including Autism Speaks, Milestones or other community providers and organizations”, said Kate Brown, MetroHealth’s Chief Development Officer.

The grant from the Cleveland Foundation will launch the program while additional philanthropic funds are secured to complete the $2.6 million program budget. Over the course of the three-year pilot, the initiative is projected to meet the physical and behavioral health and social and employment needs of approximately 700 individuals.

About The MetroHealth System

Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers.

About Autism Speaks  

Autism Speaks is dedicated to creating an inclusive world for all individuals with autism throughout their lifespan. We do this through advocacy, services, supports, research and innovation, and advances in care for autistic individuals and their families. To find resources, join an event or make a donation, go to Learn more by following @AutismSpeaks on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.