Six Ways to Improve School Transition: Students with Autism Spectrum

Do you work with students in school transition and worry about how they will get or keep a job after high school? I will first reveal why so many don’t make school transitions to a job, then offer approaches to improve the situation for youth.

Problem Revealed
According to data in KY reported in an article high schoolers are graduating, but not prepared for college or the workforce. The national level data is equally discouraging for students with disabilities. There has been a youth unemployment crises for many years. Now with the pandemic the situation is worsening.

young man reading book in the park

Student transition to a job or college in our society operates on the ‘Vertical Approach’, which is an upward movement from one phase of life to the next. Examples include: high school student to college student, or high school student to employee. But the vertical approach doesn’t work for every student. Use the ‘Lateral Approach’ to increase transition outcomes. 

Six approaches

1. Use ‘a lateral approach, a creative process that applies a step-by-step approach to enable student to make effective transitions. Let me offer an analogy. Just as a car that comes to a dead stop at the end of a street, the driver must use its reverse gear to get out of being stuck. A driver wouldn’t use the reverse to drive all the time, only when needed. The same process can be applied to students with disabilities in transition. We must create Career Readiness (CR) Programs using the ‘lateral approach’ (creative steps) that move h/her forward. For some students, effectiveness in transition is dependent upon an art form, requiring school personnel to think ‘out of the box’. Thus, the ‘vertical approach’ is not eliminated for students, it is only enhanced by the ‘lateral approach’.

2. Use tools that reflect a student’s personal preferences and their need for supports to enhance predictability and performance with on-the-job tasks and decision-making.

3. Give students tools that help them self-evaluate h-her own individuality and unique abilities. Don’t allow use academic ability and test scores as the main criteria for entry into CR programs. Don’t allow diagnoses/co-morbidity as a reason a student cannot benefit from a CR program.

4. Use strength-based assessments to help the student see career possibilities that may draw upon the strengths and interests. Don’t allow student’s behavioral challenges to be used as a criteria to be eliminated before h-she can enter into a CR program. A student’s behaviors are likely to change with new work engagement and supports.

5. Show the student you believe in h-her. See the student as one who can make strides in a CR program. When people believe and see the student’s strengths and abilities, it speaks loudly to the student. When a student see others believing in h-her, they are likely to believe in themselves, which can motivate the student to initiate or to face on-the-job obstacles.

6. Use the framework of ‘interdependence’ in Career Readiness Programs. Students need to hear from you the professional that we live in an interdependent world. None of us are truly independent and most of us rely on supports. Many workplace settings use the team approach where every employee is working mutually offering their unique abilities and strengths for the greater good of the whole.

I wish you much success and happiness.



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It is my hope to empower youth to explore their strengths, abilities and interests, and to find the courage to go after what they want. When youth have opportunities and experiences to understand the connection between their emotions, the energy tied to emotions, and the value of the strengths/weaknesses, they are better prepared to move through obstacles safely, to direct their life with adaptation, and to follow their dreams.

Dr. Jackie has written five books and numerous student resources, i.e., digital and google applications to offer to educators and parents to help students grow and adapt. She invites students to learn how to use tools to discover their abilities, interests, need for supports, emotional awareness, and self-advocacy, all to experience easier adaptation to the workplace and enjoy daily living.

Dr. Marquette’s lived experiences have spanned over three decades as a special educator teacher, school transition administrator, author, qualitative researcher, conference speaker, an adjunct professor at Bellarmine University and an art business manager for her son. Most intimately she believes her lived experiences with her autistic son has given her the deepest insight and greatest learning.