Transition to Adulthood
Welcome to the xMinds webpage on transitioning to adulthood! This page is designed to help parents of autistic students plan for their child's transition out of high school.
The move from high school student to young adulthood can be overwhelming for anyone. For autistic individuals and their families, this transition can be especially challenging. After spending years navigating the special education system, families are suddenly dropped into unknown terrain. They must learn new rules of the road, complete with different jargon and acronyms. IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) are no longer in place. Parents and students may wonder, “What’s the new plan?”
Transition planning — which officially starts at age 14 in Maryland as part of a student’s IEP — can help smooth the path to adulthood, easing the move from high school to the adult world. Think of it as a road map guiding the way to a full life that may include employment, independent living, and community engagement. Check out our resources below to help map out your plan. For continued guidance and support, join our Let's Talk Transitions online parent discussion group, the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7:00 PM. Like all xMinds events, there is no charge to participate.
Every time I think of the transition to adulthood it seems too far away or too much to wrap my head around. Where do I begin?
Students receive a range of transition services, which may include career education, career exploration, social skills and self-advocacy instruction, career technology education, in-school and community work-based learning experiences, independent living skills instruction, and linkage to community agencies. For more information, see MCPS Transition Services.
What programs are available to help prepare my disabled teenager for the work world?
DORS also offers Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services for students with “the most significant” disabilities. Not every student with an IEP is eligible for VR services. Individuals with the most severe disabilities are served on a priority basis. Some eligible individuals with less severe disabilities may be placed on a waiting list for services. VR services start the next-to-last year of high school and are designed to help participants gain employment in an integrated setting, where they work alongside workers who do not have disabilities.
MCPS also offers career-training programs. The MCPS Community and Career Connections Program offers work-based learning experiences for MCPS students who are at least 18 years old and are pursuing a Maryland High School Certificate of Program Completion. MCPS Exploring Careers is an internship program for Montgomery County high school seniors who have an IEP.
We’re fortunate to have a number of local programs that provide job training, internship opportunities, and job support for individuals with disabilities. See our Employment section for a listing of some of these programs.
If my child is not college-bound at this time or ever what other opportunities exist?
There are a number of programs that help prepare individuals with disabilities for the work world. The Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) offers Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services for students with “the most significant” disabilities to help them gain employment skills and find work. See our Employment section for a listing of some of the local programs that provide job training and internship programs for individuals with disabilities.
The MC Transitions Listserv offers a wonderful way to exchange information with other parents of disabled students who are nearing adulthood. To subscribe email MCTransitionsemail@example.com. For more ways to connect with other parents, check out our Parent Support section.
Students with developmental disabilities may be eligible for special funding from ages 21 to 22 through the Governor’s Transitioning Youth Initiative (GTYI). A collaboration of the DDA and DORS, GTYI earmarks DDA funds for eligible students, who might otherwise not receive immediate funding and would be placed on a lengthy waiting list for adult services.
Some disabled individuals with limited income and resources may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a government benefit administered by the Social Security Administration. Unlike Social Security benefits, SSI benefits are not based on your prior work or a family member's prior work. To qualify for SSI, an individual must be unable to perform "substantial gainful activity." Check online to see the full eligibility criteria.
For more information on benefits, see our section on Government Benefits & Financial Considerations.
Are there any support programs for autistic college students?
Check out our Postsecondary Education section for more information on preparing for college, selecting a school, support services, scholarship opportunities, and tips on how to succeed on campus.
Are there any special college programs for autistic students with intellectual disabilities?
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school-age children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. In contrast, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, postsecondary students are granted equal access, along with reasonable accommodations and services to allow them to participate fully in their education.
Postsecondary students must take on the responsibility of requesting accommodations and advocating for themselves to ensure equal access to higher education. While your child’s high school IEP or 504 Plan does not carry forward to college, postsecondary schools may request to see a copy of the documentation to help determine accommodations. Reach out to the postsecondary school’s disability support services office for specific supports and accommodations.
How do I obtain support from my child's college?
Will my child’s high school aid me in requesting accommodations/modifications as students transition to college?
How can I find housing and independent living supports?
Financial assistance for housing is available to eligible individuals through voucher, waiver, and subsidy programs. See our Housing section for more information. Keep in mind that the waiting lists for assistance can be lengthy, so you may want to apply early.
My child is almost an adult, and I haven’t started the transition process. Is it too late to start now?
Government Benefits & Financial Considerations
Depending on the severity of their disability, some autistic individuals may be eligible for government benefits to help with living expenses, medical costs, housing, and other needed services. This checklist is designed to help track of some of the financial assistance available, as well as some important financial considerations. This should not be construed as a comprehensive list. This content should not be considered as legal, tax, investment, financial, or any other type of advice.
The DDA is the primary Maryland agency that provides funding and resources to support individuals with developmental disabilities. To be eligible for DDA funding, you must show you need support or assistance with daily living activities. DDA is guided by the principle that individuals with disabilities have the right to direct their lives, and it focuses on “person-centered planning.” As such, DDA doesn’t provide direct services to individuals; instead, it provides funding that can be directed toward community-based providers who supply the needed services and supports, be it life-skills, communication skills, career exploration, job supports, and more. While you can apply for DDA eligibility at any age, DDA recommends starting the process at age 14 if you are seeking assistance at transition time.
DDA-eligible individuals are connected with a Coordination of Community Services (CCS) provider that will assist them in assessing their needs, planning their future, and gaining access to appropriate resources, services, and supports. CCS agencies help eligible individuals apply for a Medicaid waiver that funds long-term care services and supports in their home or community, rather than in an institutional setting.
Check out these online videos for a step-by-step guide to the DDA, and see the webinar Untangling the DDA Web. For more information, contact the Southern Maryland DDA office, 301-362-5100, firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s typically a waiting list to receive DDA services. The GTYI initiative lets students completing high school at age 21 skip the waiting list. A collaboration of the DDA and DOORS, GTYI earmarks DDA funds for students in their transition year. The initiative supports employment and other day services for students from ages 21 to 22. If you are already DDA-eligible and working with a CCS, coordinate with your caseworker to get enrolled in GTYI services. To be considered eligible, an individual must have a developmental disability that results in an inability to live independently without external support or continuing and regular assistance.
SSI pays monthly benefits to individuals with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older to help with living expenses. To be eligible, an individual with a disability must be unable to perform "substantial gainful activity." Check online to see the full eligibility criteria. Families may also apply for SSI for their minor children, but their family income and assets are considered when determining eligibility. If a child has previously been turned down for SSI based on family income, reapply for benefits after their 18th birthday when the parents' income will no longer be considered for eligibility purposes. If denied, you can appeal within 60 days.
In 2022, the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $841. Individuals receiving SSI are allowed to work, but the benefit will be reduced $1 for every $2 of earned income over $65. The Student Earned Income Exclusion allows a person who is under age 22 and regularly attending school to exclude a certain amount of their earnings from their income. Eligible individuals are automatically enrolled in Medicaid, which provides health coverage.
Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account, a tax-advantaged savings account for individuals with disabilities. Up to $100,000 can be saved in an ABLE account to pay for disability-related expenses without jeopardizing state or federal means-tested benefits such as SSI or Medicaid. (See the Social Security Administration Spotlight on ABLE Accounts).
Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS), which lets individuals on SSI set aside money to pay for items or services needed to achieve a specific work goal.
Special Needs Trusts provide a way to place a gift or inheritance into a fund designated for a person with a disability, rather than giving it directly. Funds can be placed in the trust without jeopardizing SSI eligibility.
The Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), part of the Maryland State Department of Education, helps prepare high school students for the world of work and/or postsecondary schooling. A DORS counselor is assigned to every public high school in Maryland. DORS pays for Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) for disabled high school students, ages 14-21, who need help preparing for future employment, training, or college options. DORS also helps with Vocational Rehabilitation services for high school students with “the most significant” disabilities. See our Employment section for more information.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federally-funded, locally administered program that subsidizes the rent of lower-income families, the elderly, and disabled individuals. Previously known as “Section 8” housing.
Mainstream Vouchers are Housing Choice Vouchers that have been set aside specifically for people with disabilities.
The Maryland Community Pathways Waiver Service funds residential services and other supports for developmentally and intellectually disabled Maryland residents.
The Money Follows the Person Bridge Subsidy Program is a three-year tenant-based rental assistance program for eligible participants who are transitioning out of qualified institutions into independent renting. Participants pay 30% of their income to rent and utilities. After three years, they transition to a Housing Choice Voucher or public housing.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Special Needs Trusts
The transition to college can be anxiety-provoking for any student, but it poses special challenges for autistic students, who may need help in areas such as social skills and executive functioning. Luckily, more options and support are available today for students, whether they are pursuing a bachelor’s degree, attending a two-year certificate program tailored to individuals with developmental disabilities, or participating in vocational education. Explore our resources below to help find the right fit and to prepare for the transition.
School-age children with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. In contrast, postsecondary students are provided with equal access to the curriculum in order to "level the playing field." This switch from entitlement to access is one of the major differences in how individuals with disabilities are supported in these two settings. Postsecondary students must take on the responsibility of requesting accommodations and advocating for themselves.
For more information on the differences between high school and postsecondary accommodations, see the sources below.
These programs and resources help high school students prepare and plan for the transition to college:
The resources below can help with your college search. Be sure to also check with the disability support services office at individual schools to see what supports and accommodations are available.
General skills and enrichment courses
Support programs at local universities
Be sure to check with the disability support services office at your college for specific supports and accommodations. Schedule an intake session with the office, if appropriate.
A key component of transition planning is helping youth prepare for the work world. Research shows that 58% of young autistic adults work for pay outside the home between high school and their early 20s — a rate far lower than young adults with other types of disabilities, according to the 2015 National Autism Indicators Report: Transition Into Young Adulthood. Getting an early taste of work may make a difference. The report goes on to say that approximately 90% of youth with autism who had a job during high school also had a job during their early 20s — compared to only 40% of those who did not work during high school.
Take advantage of the opportunities listed below to develop workplace skills and to explore job and career opportunities.
The Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services (DORS) serves individuals with disabilities, opening doors to employment opportunities. DORS offers transition services to prepare high school students for the world of work and possibly postsecondary schooling. A DORS counselor is assigned to every public high school in Maryland; click here to find your counselor, or ask at your school. Your DORS counselor will attend IEP meetings whenever possible and may refer you to one — or both — of the two main DORS programs that help youth with documented disabilities prepare for employment:
Target audience: High school students with disabilities, ages 14-21, who need help preparing for future employment, training, or college options.
Specific services: Job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on transition or postsecondary educational programs, workplace-readiness training, and self-advocacy instruction and training.
Eligibility requirements: A disability documented in an IEP, 504 Plan, or with a doctor’s note.
How to apply: School representatives often refer students with disabilities to DORS; parents must consent to the referral. Families can also make a referral themselves online, or can contact their local DORS office for help.
Wait time: There’s no waiting list for Pre-ETS.
Target audience: Adults and high school students nearing graduation, with “the most significant” disabilities, who are seeking competitive employment in an integrated setting, where they are working alongside workers who do not have disabilities and are earning comparable wages to non-disabled workers performing the same tasks.
Specific services: Individualized based on the person’s needs. May include counseling and referral services, career decision making, assistance with higher education, technical/vocational training, assistive technology, job preparation, job search assistance, on-the-job training and support, supported employment. Individuals deemed eligible for VR services, must develop an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), with the help of DORS and their school and family. The IPE lists the individual’s employment goal and details the services needed to achieve it.
Eligibility requirements: The requirements for VR services are more stringent than for Pre-ETS. Typically reserved for individuals that DORS has determined have the “most significant” disabilities. Students who might be eligible are usually referred by their school the year prior to their graduation year.
How to apply: School representatives often refer students with disabilities to DORS; parents must consent to the referral. Families can also make a referral themselves online, or can contact their local DORS office for help.
Wait time: Students with the “most significant” disabilities can begin a rehabilitation program without delay. Individuals with a “significant disability” will be placed on a waiting list. DORS does not expect to provide services to individuals with “non-severe disabilities” for the foreseeable future.
For more information on Pre-ETS and VR services, watch this webinar presented by DORS for the Parents’ Place of Maryland.
APPS (Autism Program Planning Success for Employment) helps autistic individuals develop employment readiness skills. Small-group sessions focus on self-determination, self-advocacy, decision-making, career interests and skills, and other employment-related topics.
Community Rehabilitation Partners (CRP) are non-government organizations that work with individuals with disabilities to help them find, keep, and prepare for employment. A DORS counselor will often refer individuals to one or more CRP as part of an Individualized Plan for Employment.
Pathways supports autistic postsecondary students as they navigate college and the journey toward employment. Available at several colleges throughout the state, including Montgomery College, the program provides educational support, assistance in adjusting to college life, career counseling and guidance, and employment preparation. The Virtual College Autism Mentoring Program offers online support for students at schools that do not offer an in-person Pathways program.
Workforce & Technology Center (WTC) is a DORS facility that offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities get ready for work. Services include career assessments, career training, employment services, and work-readiness programs. WTC is located in northeast Baltimore; individuals can stay in an on-site dormitory or commute.
Weekly Webinars for Youth Transitioning to Adulthood focus on workplace readiness, self-advocacy, and job exploration. Registration is open to students enrolled in DORS Pre-ETS program.
Obtaining appropriate, affordable housing is a major milestone on the road to independence. While some young adults may not be ready to leave the nest yet, it’s never too early to start planning. It could take years to rise to the top of some waiting lists for housing. Meanwhile, individuals can work on developing independent living skills.
Take some time to research the options to find the best fit based on an individual’s strengths, needed supports, desired living arrangement, preferred location, and budget. Create a folder or electronic file to track your research and document the steps you’ve taken.
If you have a case manager, be sure to reach out for help in your housing search. Individuals eligible for support from the Developmental Disabilities Administration will be connected with a case manager through an approved Coordination of Community Services provider. See our Government Benefits section for more information.
People with disabilities who want to buy or rent a home are protected against discrimination by the federal Fair Housing Act. The Maryland Department of Disabilities provides an overview of legal rights with respect to housing here.
Guardianship and alternatives
In Maryland, an individual is considered an adult at age 18 and given the freedom of decision-making, unless a guardianship is in place. As an adolescent nears age 18, the family may wish to explore whether guardianship or another, less restrictive alternative, is appropriate. Options include:
Power of attorney gives an individual authority to manage another person’s property and finances and/or health decisions.
Surrogate decision-making lets a surrogate legally make certain health care decisions for another individual.
Social Security's Representative Payment Program provides benefit payment management for beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. A payee, generally a family member or friend, manages the payments on behalf of the beneficiaries.
HIPAA right of access allows health care and medical services providers to share an individual’s protected health information with designated family members or friends.
Supported decision-making helps an adult with a disability make his or her own decisions, by using friends, family members, and other people he or she trusts.
Note: This content should not be considered as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.
Age of Majority: A Guide for Parents. This guide offers information on the transfer of rights at the age of majority, steps to prepare adolescents, and legal options, including guardianship. Prepared by the Center for Parent Information and Resources.
Autistic Self Advocacy Network: Right to Make Choices Toolkit. This guide helps people with disabilities understand decision-making laws and the alternatives to guardianship.
Guardianship and Its Alternatives: A Handbook on Maryland Law. This handbook discusses guardianship law and offers many alternatives that may be more appropriate and less expensive. By the University of Maryland School of Law's Law & Health Care Program and the Maryland State Bar Association.
Options for Decision-Making Support When My Child Turns 18. An xMinds webinar on alternatives to guardianship. Panelists include Morgan Whitlatch, legal director of the nonprofit Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities, and Adam Hoffman, an autistic adult, who is living independently and making decisions for himself with help from his parents and other members of his support team.
How Do I Know if I Should Be My Child's Legal Guardian? Eric Jorgensen of Special Needs Navigator shares his insights and his own experience becoming guardian of his autistic son.
Supported Decision Making for People with Disabilities. The Parents' Place of Maryland speaks about supported decision-making, an alternative to guardianship.
Having a full life often includes community engagement and opportunities for recreation and socializing. Check out the possibilities below, and see the webinar New Ways of Having Fun, presented by Potomac Community Resources, for an overview of local social and recreational activities.
DC Social Hikes is geared toward neurodiverse teens and kids, offering opportunities to hike, make friends, and build skills in problem-solving, regulating emotions, conversation skills, and identifying social cues. Hikes take place Sundays at noon in Rock Creek Park. Each session includes a group hike, yoga/meditation, and games/activities.
Dating for Disabled is is an online dating and social networking community for singles with a disability.
Dungeons and Dragons Therapeutic Groups, offered by Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates, provides tweens and teens with an opportunity to make friends and develop self-confidence, advocacy skills, communication abilities, cooperative techniques, and problem solving skills, all while playing an adventure game.
Empowerment, Advocacy & Sexuality Education (Ease) offers sexuality education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Their courses strive to give people with IDD the ability to make informed and healthy choices, advocate for themselves, prevent abuse, enjoy healthy relationships, and see themselves as sexual beings. Classes offered for teens and young adults.
Please note that inclusion of any organizations, services, products, or classes on this page does not constitute an endorsement by xMinds. This content is general in nature and should not be considered as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice. We welcome recommendations of additional resources. The reader of this information assumes the sole responsibility of evaluating the merits and risks associated with the use of any information before making any decisions based on such information.