Finishing high school and moving into adulthood can feel like taking a big leap into the unknown. Decisions and plans about life after school can be confusing and overwhelming.
Transition planning during high school improves employment outcomes, but many adolescents on the autism spectrum are not actively involved in transition planning, and teachers and parents/carers may not know how best to support adolescents on the spectrum to plan and prepare for the future.
The Better OutcOmes & Successful Transitions for Autism ( BOOST-A ) program is:
- a self-paced tool
- based on research evidence
- a structured guide for transition planning
- a strengths-based approach.
To prepare for future work experience, further training or education, or getting a job, the BOOST-A program helps adolescents on the spectrum to:
- systematically explore their career interests
- identify their personal strengths, sensory preferences, and learning styles
- create goals
- build knowledge
- develop skills and confidence.
Adolescents are prompted and encouraged to:
- form a trusted team of supporters
- explore and try out new experiences
- adopt a growth mindset to view challenges as learning opportunities.
The aim of the Better OutcOmes & Successful Transitions for Autism ( BOOST-A ) project was to develop an evidence-based, self-paced tool that could provide structure and guidance in transition planning for adolescents on the autism spectrum and the adults who support them.
Formal transition planning using the Better OutcOmes & Successful Transitions for Autism ( BOOST-A ) program should start in Year 9, or as soon as possible after that.
Starting early gives the adolescent time to develop life skills that are important for future employability, e.g.:
- safely and independently using public transport
- preparing simple meal
- managing money.
Starting early also gives the adolescent time to:
- explore potential jobs through work experience
- explore further training or education courses
- select subjects for the later years of high school that may be pre-requisites for further study.
Adolescents on the autism spectrum are much more likely to succeed after school if they have someone supporting them who believes they can succeed.
The BOOST-A program encourages adolescents and their supporters to focus on interests and strengths rather than difficulties. A growing amount of evidence shows how adolescents on the spectrum can excel in employment when they are working in areas related to their special interests and unique skills.
Parents/carers have reported that the BOOST-A program helped them to increase their expectations of what their child could achieve. Adolescents who have used the BOOST-A program have said it gave them the confidence to try new activities because they knew they could always change their mind if the activity was not for them.
Talking to adolescents on the spectrum about their future can be challenging because they haven't yet experienced it. They may struggle to imagine possible pathways, or to see the big picture.
Adolescents on the spectrum may not understand the importance of getting a job. Work experience can help them see the big picture about the value of work – beyond earning money – including benefits such as:
- participating in interesting activities
- increasing social networks
- having a sense of belonging to a community.
Work experience provides adolescents on the spectrum with low-risk, authentic opportunities to try out different careers and to find out what they like – and what they don't like – in a job.
When an adolescent builds self-determination, they believe they can take charge of their life, which helps them to succeed after they leave school.
To help them build self-determination, adolescents should be involved in every transition planning meeting. Because adolescents on the spectrum may have difficulty with social situations and experience anxiety, the transition planning process should be structured and clear, and the level of their involvement should be scaffolded, with accommodations made to meet their needs.
Transition planning is more successful when the adolescent has a champion on the transition planning team.
A champion is a trusted person who advocates for the adolescent's strengths in finding work experience and employment opportunities. They share their knowledge and provide ideas and strategies to help the adolescent achieve their goals.
The champion is often the 'glue' that holds the team together over the transition planning years. They may be a parent/carer, a teacher, a health professional, or a trusted friend.
The Better OutcOmes & Successful Transitions for Autism ( BOOST-A ) program is an online, autism-specific, transition planning program that prepares students for leaving school.
The majority of existing transition planning programs are focused on people with disability in general and may not meet the specific needs of adolescents on the autism spectrum. The BOOST-A program was developed to meet the needs of students on the spectrum.
The research team conducted:
- a trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the BOOST-A program in enhancing students’ self-determination
- a process evaluation to determine the effectiveness, usability, and barriers and facilitators for students using the BOOST-A program.
94 adolescents on the autism spectrum, enrolled in Years 8 to 11 in Australian schools, participated in the trial. Participants were blinded to the trial hypothesis, and were allocated to a control or intervention group. Over a 12-month period, the intervention group used the BOOST-A program, while the control group engaged in regular practice.
The desired primary outcome was self-determination. Desired secondary outcomes included career planning and exploration, quality of life, environment support, and domain-specific self-determination.
Data was collected from parents/carers and adolescents. After the trial, the research team conducted a process evaluation, in which 33 adolescents on the spectrum from the intervention group and their parents/carers provided feedback via an online questionnaire. 13 participants were also interviewed to gain further information about their experiences.
Results show that the BOOST-A program can enhance some career-readiness outcomes.
No significant differences were found in overall self-determination between the intervention group and the control group. However, significant differences in favour of the intervention group were found in three areas:
- opportunity for self-determination at home (parent report)
- career exploration (parent and adolescent report)
- transition-specific self-determination (parent report).
The BOOST-A program encouraged participants to take action and overcome the fear of change that accompanies leaving school. It also supported adolescents to develop clearer plans for the future.
Adolescents described feeling empowered in the transition planning process as a result of the strengths-focus of the BOOST-A program. Some participants did not find the program helpful, but for many this was because they did not have a champion to support them.
Professor Torbjorn Falkmer
Dr Megan Hatfield
A/Prof Marina Ciccarelli
Dr Marita Falkmer
All researcher details including names, honorifics (for example ‘Dr’), and organisational affiliations are correct at the time of the project.
Hatfield, M., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T., & Ciccarelli, M. (2018). Process evaluation of the BOOST-A™ transition planning program for adolescents on the autism spectrum: A strengths-based approach. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(2), 377–388. doi: 10.1007/s10803-017-3317-8
Hatfield, M., Ciccarelli, M., Falkmer, T. & Falkmer, M. (2018). Factors related to successful transition planning for adolescents on the autism spectrum. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 18(1), 3–14. doi:10.1111/1471-3802.12388
Hatfield, M., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T. & Ciccarelli, M. (2017). “Leaps of faith”: Parent and professional viewpoints on preparing adolescents on the autism spectrum for leaving school. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 17(3), 187–197. doi:10.1111/1471-3802.12377
Hatfield, M., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T., & Ciccarelli, M. (2017). Effectiveness of the BOOST-A™ online transition planning program for adolescents on the autism spectrum: A quasi-randomized controlled trial. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 11(1), 54. doi: 10.1186/s13034-017-0191-2
Hatfield, M., Murray, N., Ciccarelli, M., Falkmer, T., & Falkmer, M. (2017). Pilot of the BOOST-A: An online transition planning program for adolescents with autism, Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 64(6), 448–456. doi: 10.1111/1440-1630.12410
Hatfield, M., Falkmer, M., Falkmer, T. & Ciccarelli, M. (2016). Evaluation of the effectiveness of an online transition planning program for adolescents on the autism spectrum: Trial protocol. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 10(48), 1–11. doi: 10.1186/s13034-016-0137-0