Transitions Curriculum and Autism: Why it Works

Transition from school to adulthood can be a difficult time for any student who leaves school without a plan and the experience to carry out their plan. For students with autism, leaving school can be even more problematic, especially if they have not had the benefit of intentional preparation such as The Transitions Curriculum.

The incidence of autism has increased to 1 in 88 (CDC, 2001) creating an urgent need to find the best way to prepare students for the world of work and adult life. In addition, students with autism are now completing school and moving into adulthood in larger numbers than ever before (Sandifer, 2002). Even though they may have earned an academic diploma, students often lack the transition skills needed for the adult roles they will be facing.

Autism has long been characterized by deficits in communication, social skills and stereotyped behavior. This triad is sometimes referred to as “the big three” (DSM-IV, 2000; Wing & Gould, 1979). Functioning successfully as an adult requires an ability to communicate effectively, handle complex social situations and adjust easily to unexpected changes in the workplace and community. Experts in the field of autism note the daily inability to relate to other people or confront environmental inconsistencies. These are needs that must be addressed long before the student leaves school (National Research Council, 2001)

Lee and Carter (2012) confirm that the social-related challenges faced by youth with autism have a particular impact on employment prospects. Without opportunities to learn and practice appropriate social skills in reality-based community settings before leaving school, students are put at a great disadvantage.

The Transitions Curriculum has solutions for students on the autism spectrum by providing consistent and intentional lessons that are a step-by-step guide for acquiring skills needed in the post-school community. Transitions lessons were written with a special focus on communication and social skills. These skills are embedded in each lesson throughout the curriculum and integrated into activities where students apply the needed skills.

A specific focus on communication and social skills can be found in Unit 1 of Career Management, with 18 lessons that focus on learning and practicing powerful communication skills on the job and in typical adult situations. This Unit has a particular focus on anger management including understanding anger, recognizing physical responses to anger and practicing techniques for controlling anger.  In Lesson 10 students learn to recognize their own physical responses to anger – often brought on by stress and anxiety when they are faced with situations they do not understand or by unexpected changes in the environment.

For students with autism, the adult world can be puzzling and frightening when they are misunderstood or do not understand the social cues we take for granted. Transitions will give these students powerful tools and strategies for their first successful steps into the adult community.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. (2000). Text Revision: Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association.

Lee, Gloria K. & Carter, Erik W. (2012) Preparing transition-age students with high- functioning autism spectrum disorders for meaningful work. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 49 (10).

Wing, L., & Gould, J. (1979). Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: Epidemiology and classification. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2001)

National Research Council. (2001). Educating Children With Autism.

Louise Fulton, Ed.D. and Rebecca Silva, Ph.D.

The Stanfield Way

The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.

Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.

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