As the sibling of an adult brother with cerebral palsy (spastic quadriplegia), I deeply appreciated the second part of this book's title, Success Beyond the Classroom. So much time and effort are spent focusing on K–12 education, yet most individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities will live significantly beyond their high school years. Planning for necessary supports that result in real-world success and community inclusion is sometimes forgotten or begun at the last minute in a frantic realization that the individual with intellectual and developmental disabilities will graduate soon or age out of prior supports and services. An inherent success of this book is that the authors stress the importance of a systematic transition process initiated well ahead of time that adheres to federal guidelines.
By focusing on individuals with autism spectrum disorders, this manual of postsecondary transition strategies and considerations also fills an important gap in the literature. Much of the focus within the field of autism is on diagnosis, etiology, and early childhood and elementary school strategies and supports. This book is a welcome reminder to professionals in public school special education and human service agencies that, after students with autism graduate and/or turn 22 years old, they do not simply disappear; they become adults with autism who have all of the same strengths, interests, and needs they possessed when they were in school. This book answers the vital call to plan for and maintain effective and appropriate supports and services beyond secondary school placements and into adulthood.
The authors present a detailed overview of a thorough transition-planning process that if followed should certainly lead to positive outcomes for young adults with autism spectrum disorders. They begin the first chapter by describing three individuals with autism spectrum disorders, who they name Jeff, Craig, and Maria. The authors use these three individual descriptions as case studies, returning to them in each chapter to demonstrate in great detail how to apply each component of their multifaceted transition process. The case studies connect the chapters effectively, providing examples and considerations for school, employment, postsecondary education, and independent living that readers can learn from. Readers engaged in the transition process will find the numerous checklists, examples of assessments, sample behavior intervention plans, sample transition plans, and other documents to be useful models. The authors are, in their own terminology, “hopeful” that readers who implement this process will support individuals with autism spectrum disorders to live productive lives of their own choosing in their communities.
Thus, the intended readers seem to be those in (or soon to be in) positions of direct involvement with planning for and implementing transition supports and adult services, including secondary educators, preservice secondary education teachers and secondary special education teachers; adult service providers; graduate students in related fields; and parents, guardians, or other family members. Recognizing that effective transition planning includes collaboration among home, school, and human service agencies, the authors include an valuable chapter titled “Navigating the World of Adult Services and Benefits Planning.” This chapter will be especially useful for parents, guardians, or other family members who are not yet familiar with this intricate system.
In terms of values, the authors emphasize the importance of educators and adult service providers holding high expectations for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and they highlight learning and training in inclusive schools and communities. Even when they describe the importance of community-based instruction, which would seem to contradict or prohibit school inclusion, they give examples of employment goals that can be worked on at school, and they stress the community inclusion aspect of instruction outside of the secondary school setting.
That being said, there are two areas that I would comment on critically. The first reflects a common critique of similar “how to” type books in the area of human services. Because the process only comes alive when applied to human beings, the descriptions of it can feel too simplistic. At times, this book read like a cookbook, with recipes for successful transition depending on the characteristics of the individual. Notwithstanding the usefulness of the three case studies as examples of how to apply the authors' proposed transition process, the individuals studied seemed to represent three distinct “types” of individuals with autism. Focusing predominantly on certain types of individuals to whom the general process or structure might be applied could encourage readers to develop general plans that do not take into account the uniqueness of each individual with whom they work. In addition, the many subtitled components in each chapter often remain at surface-level descriptions and result in an overall sense of a lack of depth. For these reasons, those with extensive personal or professional experience with autism spectrum disorders may not find this book to be particularly useful.
The second area of critique relates to perceptions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. In both the preface and the first chapter, the authors stress two points as underlying themes of this work: (a) “People with autism, like people without disabilities, are individuals first,” (p. 8); and (b) “Our focus in this book is about what young people with autism can do and how to design supports to expand their opportunities and potential” (p. 5). The authors appropriately emphasize believing in the potential of people with autism spectrum disorders, while supporting them in the areas in which they currently struggle and/or have needs to achieve the lives they wish to lead.
Although the authors stress that all individuals with autism spectrum disorders are individuals first and rightfully deserve high expectations of their potential, the ensuing content of their book sometimes seems to suggest otherwise. If one believes that individuals with autism spectrum disorders are individuals first, the appropriate strategy would logically require developing individualized supports based on a variety of approaches. The combination of autism being a spectrum disorder along with each individual's unique personality, learning style, strengths, and needs effectively precludes favoring any one approach, yet the authors present a structure of transition planning clearly rooted in a behavioral approach. They cite “challenging behaviors” (p. 8) as a secondary characteristic of autism but do not mention sensory difficulties (Dunn, 2008; Gillingham, 1995, 2000; Kluth, 2003; Lord & McGee, 2001) and movement differences (Donnellan & Leary, 1995) as such, even though they are often predominant “secondary” characteristics. Furthermore, the sensory and movement pieces often offer compelling explanations for behaviors commonly misinterpreted only as “challenging,” which would require approaches other than a behavioral one. Even when implementing positive behavior supports, which acknowledge the contextual complexities of behaviors, beliefs about the function of a behavior remain hypotheses without confirmation communicated by the individual. For example, when a student with autism pushes his or her worksheet to the ground, one might hypothesize that the behavior is aimed at task avoidance, but it could just as easily be related to the scent of his or her paraeducator's perfume/cologne or to difficulties starting the task.
Additional evidence of the authors' preference for a behavioral approach includes a detailed discussion of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) in the second chapter, as well as a significant emphasis on the principles and methods of applied behavior analysis (ABA), including discrete trial training (DTT), in their chapter on community-based instruction. Although all of these strategies can, of course, be helpful for many individuals with autism spectrum disorders, the point to remember is that they are but one of a variety of approaches and specific strategies that may be used, depending on the individual's specific characteristics and experiences.
The noticeable absence of the voices of individuals with autism spectrum disorders also contradicts the authors' underlying themes. Authors with autism spectrum disorders such as Temple Grandin, Daniel Tammet, and Stephen Shore have effectively described their experiences with employment and adult life in compelling and helpful ways. The absence of similar first-person accounts in this book, as well as the absence of self-advocacy groups in the list of resources at the end of the book, results in a hierarchical disposition, with the authors talking for and about individuals rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to support them to share their valuable stories and perspectives. As I read each case study description and update, I longed to hear from Jeff, Craig, and Maria directly. I wondered how they felt about their transition plans. What worked well? What needed some tweaking? How did they contribute to the person-centered planning process? Did they enjoy their jobs and living situations? Did they have friends? This book could have reached a different level—and audience—with first-person accounts providing insight to a complex collaboration process aimed at achieving historically difficult goals. Without their voices, the book seems dangerously close to ignoring the agency of those it claims to believe in and support.
Ultimately, the overall package presented in this book is a well organized and straightforward description of a systematic and thorough process of transition planning for young adults with autism spectrum disorders. The authors have crafted a clear framework with a well-explained series of steps and considerations that will be easy to follow and very helpful to those looking for it. Recognizing that too many young adults with autism spectrum disorders—and intellectual and developmental disabilities—endure some degree of boredom and isolation on a daily basis, this book will be useful to those engaged in transition planning with young adults striving for more active and satisfying lives. However, readers may have to look to other resources for a more in-depth analysis of the complex issues related to self-determination and agency of young adults with autism spectrum disorders.