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Adolescents with Autism: Individualized Education Programs and Transition Planning

June 22, 2023

Family Connections with Pediatrics

Planning for life after high school is layered and complex for each and every child. The path between adolescence and adulthood looks different for everyone. For some it is clear and simple, while others have to plan transitions for more than just education; transition planning may be needed for health care, employment, and training. In this month’s Pediatrics, “Individualized Education Programs and Transition Planning for Adolescents with Autism”, authors look at the individualized education programs (IEPs) of adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to better understand transition plans (10.1542/peds.2022-060199). Young adults with ASD are less likely to attend college, participate in paid employment, and live independently compared to those without ASD.1-2 The authors wanted to look closely at IEPs to see what is key to making a good transition plan.

Who did the study and who was included in the study?

This study was done by members of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, a program funded by the Centers for Disease Control (also known as the CDC) to collect data to better understand the number and characteristics of children with ASD and other developmental disabilities living in different areas of the US. The authors looked at the IEPs of 16-year-old children in Arkansas, Georgia, and Utah who had:

  • A written diagnosis of ASD on a comprehensive evaluation
  • A special education classification of autism in a public school
  • A billing codes for ASD in administrative or billing information

Why did the study look at IEPs of children at age 16?

The law requires that by age 16, the IEP must include goals for after high school related to training/education, employment, and, if applicable, independent living skills.

What did the study find?

Just like transition planning itself, the findings of the study are layered and have many angles. The authors describe not only good IEP strategies to help with transitions, but they also share gaps. Here is what they found:

  • 92% of the total number of IEPs included a transition plan.
  • Several differences were found in IEPs between each of the states. For instance, 78% of the transition plans for children in Arkansas had goals for living arrangements after high school, compared to only 18% in Utah.
  • IEPs of children with both ASD and intellectual disability (also known as ID) diagnoses were less likely to have post-high school education goals or goals for competitive employment.
  • There were no differences between IEPs based on sex, but there were differences based on race. For example, there were no Black teens with ASD in the study using school-based mental health services.

This study takes a snapshot of IEPs at a specific point in a long process. As such, the picture may not be complete or may be still developing. In the discussion section, the authors look closely at IEPs and how services link up to successful transitions. For example, authors noted a gap in the number of goals focused on social skill instruction, practical adaptive skills, and school-based mental health services despite the importance of these services for preparing adolescents to transition after high school.

What can I do with this article?

  1. Read the entire article to see all of the results and take a look at the tables and graphs that give a breakdown of the study.
  2. If you have a child with ASD, share this article with your child’s doctor. Start a conversation about transition.
  3. If you have a child with ASD, share this article with members of your child’s IEP team. Use it as a tool to start conversations. Sometimes we do not learn of IEP goals until the meeting day. Sharing this article can help the entire IEP team- including child and family- talk about the future and then moving into planning. **NOTE- It is never too early to start transition talks!
  4. If you serve on an advisory committee in health or education, such as a Special Education Advisory Committee (also known as SEAC) or a Patient and Family Advisory Committee, share this article as a way to talk about how groups can bring more discussion and action around transition planning.


  1. Shattuck PT, Naredorf SC, Cooper B, Sterzing PR, Wagner M, Taylor JL. Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics. Jun 2012; 129(6):1042-9. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2864
  2. Roux A, Shattuck PT, Rast JE, Rava J, Anderson K. National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into young adulthood. 2015
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