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TCXXXX10.1177/0040059914559780<sc>Council for Exceptional Children</sc>TEACHING <sc>Exceptional Children</sc>

Original Article

Five Steps for Developing

Effective Transition Plans
for High School Students
With Autism Spectrum
Katherine Szidon, Andrea Ruppar, and Leann Smith
TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 47, No. 3, pp. 147152. Copyright 2015 The Author(s). DOI: 10.1177/0040059914559780

Lakeview High School is a medium- The Challenge of Transition behavior and restrictive interest than
sized high school in a rural farming Planning and IEPs for their peers with other disabilities,
community. The staff at Lakeview Students With ASD making transitions and coping with
meets at the beginning of each school change more difficult (Smith, Barker,
Adolescence can be a stressful time for
year to discuss building-level Seltzer, Abbeduto, & Greenberg, 2012).
many students. During the high school
professional development plans. This Anxiety may pose challenges when
years, young people work to develop
year, Lakeviews special education team students engage in exploring, planning,
has requested to focus its professional new identities and make decisions and preparing for the future (White,
development time on improving special about the future, including where they Oswald, Ollendick, & Scahill, 2009).
education services for students with will live, what they will do Similarly, limitations in social
autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The (postsecondary education or career), communication, a core feature of ASD,
team is seeing an increasing number of and who will be their friends (Test, may make it particularly difficult for
students with ASD who are highly Smith, & Carter, 2014). For any student, students with ASD to understand social
skilled academically yet have complex these changes are difficult. For situations and to express interests,
needs around social behavior, self- adolescents with ASD, the difficulty is needs, and goals about the future
management, and independent greater because of their unique (Wehmeyer, Shogren, Zager, Smith, &
livingskills necessary for success in challenges. Specifically, students with Simpson, 2010).
postsecondary environments. The team ASD display both (a) persistent deficits For teachers, writing IEPs for
recognizes that this type of instruction in social communication and (b) students with ASD who are
does not seem to fit easily in the restricted, repetitive patterns of transitioning out of high school can
existing high school schedule, and the behavior and interests that are pose unique challenges, as the specific
goals that the teachers write to increase significant enough to impair social, needs of each student need to be taken
student self-management skills and occupational, or other functions into consideration. Students may
develop social awareness are difficult to (American Psychiatric Association, demonstrate significant variation in
implement. Yet, given the importance of 2013). That is, students with ASD their academic, language, social, and
these social, emotional, and experience greater social behavioral skills. For example, some
communication skills, the team plans communication difficulties than what students with ASD may read fluently
to work together to develop better would be expected for other students but struggle to comprehend text. Other
programming for its students with their age. Adolescents with ASD also students may excel at standardized
ASD. have higher levels of repetitive science assessments but have difficulty

TEACHING Exceptional Children | January/February 2015 147

Although academic students move from school into After conducting assessments, the
skills may be strong for postschool activities (20 U.S.C. IEP team should use the information
1401[34]). For students with ASD, the gathered to create appropriate,
some students with ASD, transition planning process includes measureable postsecondary goals and
these same students unique considerations. develop transition services (including
often demonstrate courses of study) necessary for the
significant challenges in Step 1: Identify Transition Goals student to meet the goals. Specifically,
their social and adaptive In designing a transition IEP, the team federal regulations stipulate that
skills that can affect should begin by considering the measurable postsecondary goals must
students needs in the areas of be developed in the areas of training,
their independence. By education, and employment. If
postsecondary education, employment,
planning for teaching and independent living. Formal appropriate, the team may also develop
and supporting these transition assessments can provide goals for independent living (20 U.S.C.
important skill areas, the essential guidance for the team. 1414 [d][1][A][i][VIII]).
team can develop a well- Numerous assessments are available to
rounded plan for success measure adaptive and social skills in
Step 2: Link Postsecondary Goals
in postsecondary high school students and can provide
With IEP Goals
school teams with a current level of
settings. functioning. For example, the National Once the team develops measurable
Secondary Transition Technical postsecondary goals in education,
completing lab assignments due to the Assistance Center (NSTTAC) provides employment, and independent living
social demands of working with other several resources for teams searching areas, annual IEP goals can be written.
students in their class. A student with for appropriate transition assessments At least one IEP goal should align with
ASD might have a significant strength in a variety of domains (see Walker, and support each of the students
in music, but lack of hygiene may be a Kortering, Fowler, Rowe, & Bethune, postsecondary goals. There should be a
barrier to being accepted by peers in 2013). In addition, Virginia clear connection between postsecondary
the school orchestra. The aspirations Commonwealth Universitys Autism goals (to be achieved after graduation)
and interests of students with ASD can Center for Excellence (2014) lists a and IEP goals (to be achieved in an
be extremely varied. Some students number of language tests that provide academic year). A common error in
might want to plan for college, others information about communication and transition IEP writing is to have
for careers; some students will look social engagement in order to help measurable postsecondary goals and
toward increasing community teams design interventions for students measurable IEP goals with no link
engagement and exploring independent with ASD. between the two. This is especially
living options, and still others, a Using the data from a transition problematic for students with ASD, for
combination of these options (Shogren assessment, the IEP team can identify whom generalization of skills is
& Plotner, 2012). Further, students with postsecondary goals. An important part particularly difficult. Team members,
ASD often have very intense and, at of this process is determining future students with ASD, and their families all
times, limited interests that can make it environments the student will access, need to see a clear link between the
difficult to find an appropriate considering the skills necessary to be goals learned in high school and
postsecondary goal that is a good fit. successful in those environments, and postschool aspirations. High school
For educators to effectively plan for the assessing the student performance on teams should research the skills needed
range of outcomes expected from skills in those areas. One common error for the desired career and identify areas
students with ASD, individualized and in transition assessment and goal where students with ASD might struggle.
carefully tailored programming is writing for students with ASD is the In this way, the IEP document helps train
required for students to make failure to consider and assess student students in the skills necessary for
maximum gains. challenges in core areas that are postschool success. For examples of
associated with autism (Ruble, McGrew, aligned IEP and postsecondary goals, see
Dalrymple, & Jung, 2010). Although Table 1.
Guidelines for Writing
academic skills may be strong for some
Transition Plans
students with ASD, these same students
Step 3: Troubleshoot and Adjust
The Individuals With Disabilities often demonstrate significant challenges
Transition and IEP Goals
Education Act (IDEA; 2006) requires in their social and adaptive skills that
schools to develop transition plans for can affect their independence. By A high-quality transition IEP is built on
students with disabilities, beginning at planning for teaching and supporting measurable goals. To be useful after
age 16, if not before. The regulations these important skill areas, the team can graduation, skills should be
define transition planning as a develop a well-rounded plan for success generalizable to postsecondary
coordinated set of activities that help in postsecondary settings. employment, education, or independent

148Council for Exceptional Children

Table 1.Aligned Annual IEP and Postsecondary Goals

Postsecondary goal Annual IEP goal

Upon completion of high school, Chris will enroll in a Given instruction in word-processing and keyboarding skills,
community college to study computer-aided drawing. Chris will accurately type 15 words per minute in four out
of five opportunities across one semester of data (in order
to prepare him to study computer-aided drawing after
graduating high school).

After graduation from high school, Tonya will independently Given instruction in bus riding, Tonya will complete the
use community transportation, including public buses, taxis, steps necessary for her to arrive at five identified community
and the ride-share system. destinations with 100% accuracy across five consecutive
opportunities (in order to prepare her to independently ride
community transportation after she graduates high school).

Note. IEP = individualized education program.

living. IEP goals need four key make improvements where necessary), Too specific to curriculum. Many
components: (a) the students name, (b) every quarter as his schedule allows. teachers rely on a specific, published
an observable skill that the student will curriculum to support their
improve, (c) the conditions under which Team members, students instruction. Similarly, some schools
the skill should be performed, and (d) a with ASD, and their may have adopted schoolwide
criterion for reaching the goal. However, behavior programs to support
families all need to see a
depending on the goal, a teacher might student behavior. When writing IEP
have difficulty with any of the last three
clear link between the goals, it can be helpful to consider
components. To assist IEP teams with goals learned in high the outcome of participating in a
troubleshooting transition and IEP school and postschool curriculum or program to ensure
goals, we present three potential pitfalls aspirations. that a targeted transition skill will
in writing transition IEP goals: (a) goals be generalized beyond the teaching
that amount to only passive If Chris does nothing, the goal will setting.
participation, (b) goals that are too automatically be met. Instead, taking For example, Tonya, a senior, aspires
specific to a particular curriculum, and study hall should be part of the support to work in the animal care field after
(c) goals that measure only episodic he receives to meet the goal of she graduates from high school. She
events. completing work and improving his reports that she has difficulty following
organizational skills. Chriss teacher verbal directions. Consequently, she
Passive participation. Identifying
should reword the goal to ensure that becomes frustrated and verbally lashes
supports that will help students
the specific skills she wants him to out at teachers and paraprofessionals.
succeed in school is an important
improvechecking his assignment As part of her behavior intervention
priority when planning a transition
notebook, completing assigned work, plan, Tonya participates in a point
IEP. Equally important is to distinguish
and crossing out completed system for using appropriate language,
between the goal and the supports
assignmentsare targeted for displaying good listening behaviors, and
needed to reach a goal. Consider the
instruction. A revised goal could read, staying in class (rather than leaving
following example:
In study hall, Chris will improve his partway through). Her case manager
Chriss special education teacher has organizational skills by (a) checking his has written the following goal: Tonya
noticed that Chris struggles with assignment notebook at the beginning of will earn an average of 7 positive points
organization. As a result, Chris fails to each study hall and (b) crossing out each day.
bring his homework back to school. completed assignments in his Although these behaviors are
She knows that Chris aspires to attend assignment notebook with 90% accuracy important for her future employment
a community college to study across three consecutive weeks of data goals, the point system is implemented
computer-aided drawing and will need only at school. This goal is too specific
collection. This goal identifies study hall
to build good organizational skills to
as the context in which he will address to a curriculum and not generalizable
stay on top of his college courses. She
the goal of organization. By specifying to postschool outcomes. A revised goal
includes the following goal in his IEP:
Chris will continue to take a study hall the context, Chriss team will ensure could read as follows: When Tonya
to allow for time during the school day that Chris continues to participate in does not understand what to do in
to complete work and to maintain his study hall, where he will work on a goal class, she will use a self-monitoring
study and organizational skills that will enhance his participation in checklist consisting of the following
(revisiting what he currently uses and postsecondary education. options: (a) reread directions on the

TEACHING Exceptional Children | January/February 2015 149

planning and difficult decision making
on the part of the IEP team.
In the absence of a clearly scheduled
time and plan for direct teaching,
students may receive inadequate
amounts of instruction and practice
time needed to acquire the new skill,
with a low likelihood of generalization.
Ongoing evaluation of student needs
and high school offerings is one way to
help support a flexible curriculum that
can adapt to the unique and varied
needs of students with ASD. Once an
IEP goal has been developed, careful
consideration should be given to where
the skill can best be taught within the
students school day. For instance, it
may be necessary to add a
communications class as an option for
students who need individualized
instruction in social skills. Schools
might also institute an organizational
board, (b) check with a neighbor, or (c) teacher could have written a goal that
check in class at the beginning or the
raise her hand to request assistance, would promote his attainment of career
end of a school day in order to support
and select an appropriate strategy to goals. The following is an example of a
obtain help, with no more than one students who need help with executive
goal that would measure Calebs ability
teacher prompt per class period across 6 function activities like homework
to complete writing tasks in an office
weeks of instruction. planning and organization of their work
setting as well as in his academic
and school schedules. Electives that
By using a self-monitoring checklist classes: During writing tasks using a
teach skills such as meal preparation,
that includes these strategies, Tonya will laptop computer, Caleb will increase his
personal finance, and career readiness,
develop problem-solving skills. Moreover, typing fluency from six to 30 words per
can be highly beneficial for students
a self-monitoring checklist could be used minute across three consecutive trials
with ASD, particularly those for whom
in a workplace as an appropriate support by April 2015. This goal includes
other classes in functional skills may be
to maintain employment. conditions (during writing tasks using
inappropriate. As teams consider adding
a laptop computer) and a criterion
these courses for students with ASD, it
Episodic events. When identifying (30 words per minute... by April
is useful to remember that students
postschool goals, it is important to 2015), and it can be measured over
might benefit from having academic
determine skills that (a) will enable the time.
course work spread out longer than the
student to fully participate in adult life
traditional 4-year high school
and (b) can be measured over time.
experience, consistent with IDEA, to
Some activities might help students Step 4: Provide Opportunities to
access additional courses to prepare
reach goals but happen only once. Teach Skills
them for all of their postsecondary
For example, Calebs teacher thinks
Once critical skills have been goals. Changing course offerings can be
engaging in a career exploration activity
identified, however, high school staff difficult and may be outside the control
will help Caleb identify his personal
goals and enhance his self-determination. members might experience difficulty of IEP teams in some districts. In the
She writes the following goal: Caleb will identifying where to incorporate the absence of targeted courses, teams will
participate in a career exploration specially designed instruction into a need to creatively work together to
assessment to identify possible career students school day. This can be determine how to integrate
goals. especially tricky for students with generalization of social and other skills
A week after the IEP meeting, ASD, as their unique profile of within current class parameters while
Calebs teacher administers the strengths and learning needs makes it advocating for other options for the
assessment. Caleb identifies three difficult to plan a course of study future.
different office jobs he would like to without having gaps in instruction.
try. The goal has been met; it is For students with a full load of
Step 5: Evaluate Progress
episodic and cannot be measured over academic instruction, finding time to
time. Had the assessment occurred offer adaptive skill development or A well-crafted transition IEP should
prior to the IEP meeting, Calebs social curriculum may require creative provide the team with valuable

150Council for Exceptional Children

Figure 1.Missing Homework Data Collection Survey Following the step-by-step process,
Lakeview High Schools special
Please indicate: education team first realized that its
A) ____________ missing assignments over the past 4 weeks. transition assessment options did not
B)____________ late assignments over the past 4 weeks. accurately measure the core skill areas
associated with ASD. The team used the
C)How frequently do you provide individual reminders to Jake to turn in
resources at NSTTAC as a guide to add
assigned work?
more information in its assessment
____ Never _____ Daily _____ Weekly _____ During Progress Reports process. The staff members selected the
D)Describe any individual support you are providing to help Jake locate Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales
and turn in assigned work. _______________________________________. (Vineland II; Sparrow, Cicchetti, & Balla,
____________________________________________________________________ 2005) and the Autism Social Skills
Profile (ASSP; Bellini, 2006) to help
them survey adaptive and social skills.
They also discovered that the counseling
office had a license for a software
information about student progress an example of her data collection
survey instrument.) program that gave students and teachers
toward realizing postsecondary goals. If
Once data were collected across the access to career-planning resources. The
the IEP goal has been written in a
school day, including the level of software package included assessments
manner that is observable, and the
teacher prompting, the special of interests, allowed students to self-
performance conditions and criteria are
education teacher found that in all report their abilities, and matched this
well articulated, data should be easy to
classes, except math and English, Jakes information to careers based on an
collect. Unfortunately, high school
teachers were reminding him daily and occupational database that was specific
teachers of students with ASD might not assisting him to turn in his work. His to their state. The team now had a much
always have effective and precise data special education teacher realized that better sense of students unique interests
collection systems that can inform Jake was having significant problems
and abilities.
students ongoing progress toward goals. with organization, and he required
Armed with better information, the
For example, standardized academic instruction and support in completing
and turning in assigned work. With team was able to connect assessment
scores may not be collected frequently
more comprehensive data, the IEP data to postsecondary goals. The team
enough to inform instructional changes,
teacher and team designed a realized that many of the students
or they may not capture social and
measurable goal to increase Jakes lacked the adaptive skills required to
adaptive skill development. Further, a
independence in work completion. The succeed in postsecondary environments.
teacher might decide to measure progress
team knew this skill would become In response, special education staff wrote
based upon general impressions of
increasingly important as he some new measurable annual goals,
student performance or global transitioned to postsecondary education. aligned to the students postsecondary
observations rather than targeted data
goals that targeted the independent
collected over time. Imprecise data
Conclusion living skills, organization, and social
collection systems may make it difficult
communication necessary to navigate
to detect error patterns and accurately Planning for the incorporation of
college and the community successfully.
measure skills. Without a careful analysis successful transition supports for high
The team explored creative ways to offer
of the pattern of social and adaptive skill school students with ASD requires IEP
these skills through three new courses
acquisition, teachers risk over- or teams to consider the unique needs of
taught by the special education staff: one
underestimating their students skill these students. The five steps outlined
that targets self-management and
levels, leading to future problems in this article can provide IEP teams
independence, one that addressed social
engaging in desired postsecondary goals. guidance when identifying appropriate
communication, and one that offered
The following example demonstrates the postsecondary goals, developing
practice navigating community settings.
importance of appropriate data collection transition activities to support the
Through regular progress monitoring, the
to inform instructional support: goals, and aligning those goals with the
Jakes special education teacher team was able to track student data on
annual IEP. With a solid plan in place,
learns that he is forgetting to turn in adaptive and social skills, and make
teams can work toward developing
homework in his mathematics and appropriate adaptations to instruction in
instructional opportunities to foster
English classes. To gain more order to better prepare students with
skill development and effectively
information about what might be ASD for postsecondary success.
happening, she sends out an e-mail to evaluating progress for their students
all of his teachers asking them to with ASD. Teams that follow these
steps ensure increased support for References
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TEACHING Exceptional Children | January/February 2015 151

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152Council for Exceptional Children