For many, the idea of leaving school and starting the next chapter of life is very exciting.
However, for many individuals living with Autism as well as their carers, this transition can be very stressful. It often takes many years and much preparation to ensure a successful transition. Therefore, it is important to begin learning about options and planning how you will approach this time as quickly as possible.
It is common for people to leave these discussions off until the last year of schooling, but we strongly suggest starting the planning process much sooner.
Here in Ireland, students with disabilities can attend school until the end of the year that they turn 18 years of age. Beyond that, there are a number of different options depending on the individual’s interests, strengths and needs. Some individuals will progress to some form of further education or employment, and others may require different forms of support, such as a day service.
In mainstream post-primary schools, it is normally the guidance counselor that assists learners in making informed decision about their future. Guidance counselors can assist youth in understanding their education, training, and employment options.
However, they are not always equipped with the information to support those with more complex needs, and unfortunately special schools do not employ guidance counselors.
To address this gap in support for those that require it, each HSE Disability Service has an Occupational Guidance Service. The Occupational Guidance Officer typically becomes involved in the last year of school, advising on rehabilitative options or day services. If a suitable placement is agreed the Occupational Guidance Officer will approve and complete the necessary steps required to secure the placement and ensure a smooth transition for the service participant.
Individuals with Autism may find various aspects of employment very challenging. However, with the right support, people with ASD have much to offer. They are often honest, reliable and have good attention to detail.
Many individuals will have the skills to perform various roles, but may have difficulty getting the job because of the interview process. Or, they may find employment successfully, but struggle with social interactions, changes in routine, or sensory experience in the workspace.
It is extremely important that people with Autism are given the appropriate support to find an employment situation that is right for them; and that employers thoroughly understand how to provide supportive environments so that their employees who are Autistic thrive. This way, employment relationship is mutually beneficial.
Individuals seeking guidance and support may find the following information helpful:
Specialisterne Ireland is a not-for-profit company, committed to offering practical solutions to employment challenges for people on the Autism spectrum. They work with individuals to assess support needs and help match them to the right jobs. They also provide coaching in interview and communication skills. Their services are available to both job seekers and employers. To learn more, visit the Specialisterne Ireland website.
Supported employment is a system designed to help those with disabilities like Autism, among others, to obtain and maintain employment. It is based on the premise that with the right type of support, everyone can make a meaningful and valuable contribution to the workforce should they wish to.
You can find more information about supported employment in Ireland on the Irish Association for Supported Employment (IASE) website, including a searchable interactive map of local services.
The government funds a national supported employment programme called EmployAbility with 24 agencies throughout Ireland, which are also included on the IASE map.
Fortunately, Universities and College Institutes are increasingly recognizing that many individuals with ASD can be successful with the right support. There are now a number of resources available to those who would like to pursue higher education. In addition to the resources listed here, it is important to contact any university of interest to inquire about their disability services.
DARE is a third level alternative admissions scheme for school leavers with disabilities (including Autism and/or Aspergers) that have had their second-level education negatively impacted by their disability. The DARE programme enables eligible individuals to access a participating college or university with reduced Leaving Certificate points. Participating colleges and universities have agreed to reserve a number of places for students applying through DARE. You can find more information about the application process on the DARE website.
AHEAD is an independent non-profit organisation working to promote full access to and participation in further and higher education for students with disabilities and to enhance their employment prospects on graduation. AHEAD provides information on access to education, supports and services for those with disabilities in school, and resources for those seeking employment beyond school. They also provide information and training on their website for Higher Education facilities and employers in inclusive education and employment. For more information, visit the AHEAD website.
Institutes offering further education provision typically provide both academic and vocational programmes of study and training at pre-degree level for school leavers. Qualifications are regulated by FETAC and are provided by a wide range of different providers, including vocational education committees (VECs), secondary schools, comprehensive schools and community schools or colleges, as well as a number of adult learning and community education centres. There are various further education options available including Post Leaving Certificate Programmes, Youthreach Programmes, and Vocational Training Options Scheme. While these programmes are not specifically designed for individuals with ASD, they may be a good option for those who would like to continue their studies but are not be suited to traditional post-secondary learning environments.
Rehabilitative training courses help adults develop life skills, social skills and basic work skills. They are designed to help individuals develop greater levels of independence and integration in their community. Participants attend these courses for two to four years and are supported to develop and review training plans in line with their needs and abilities. The National Learning Network provides rehabilitative training programmes in many locations, and some locations would have programmes specifically developed to support those with ASD. However, they are not the only provider of such programmes. The HSE Occupational Guidance Officer can advice adults and carers on options available to them.
Adult Day Services
These services are for those with significant support needs, requiring substantial help to access service and activities in the community. Although these services have largely been delivered in a specific service location, recent policy guidance (New Directions) is encouraging a move away from centre-based services, to provide more person-centred supports enabling people to access mainstream services in the community where possible. The HSE Occupational Guidance Officer can advise adults and carers on options available to them in their region.