Family-Centered Transition Planning for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability and the University of Maine Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies are collaborating on a two-year project to demonstrate a family-centered transition planning model for students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Young adults with autism spectrum disorders frequently transition from high school to adult life lacking the skills and supports needed to participate as full members of their communities. The resulting social isolation and dependency on families or intensive disability support services has been identified as a serious social problem, compounded by a significant increase in incidence of ASD diagnosis in recent years.

The family-centered transition planning model has three components, designed to empower families and transitioning students to take a leading role in the process of transition planning:

  1. The first component involves a series of up to six structured training sessions. Families will learn: (a) practical strategies for implementing family-centered planning, (b) to identify and utilize a variety of adult service options, (c) to use networking strategies, and (d) to negotiate and advocate effectively while building partnerships with service providers.
  2. The second component is facilitating plan development with the individual families following training.  A Planning Facilitator will assist transitioning students with ASD and their families to form a group of supportive individuals, including school and adult service representatives and conduct 2 – 3 planning meetings held at the family’s home or other chosen location to develop a plan for meaningful community participation following high school, including employment and/or postsecondary education.

  3. The third component is facilitation of career exploration activities – such as job shadowing, volunteer work experiences, or investigating colleges – with the student, family and school, in accordance with each plan.  Full-time Planning Facilitators in NH and ME will assist with planning facilitation and career exploration for about 8 months for each family following the completion of SPECS training.

The Family-Centered Transition Planning project will enroll 40 youth between the ages of 16 and 18 from collaborating high schools in New Hampshire and Maine, and one parent for each youth enrolled. Twenty of the individuals and families will be selected to receive the training and support in the first year. The remaining twenty will receive it in the second. Data will be collected at enrollment and after 12 months to measure the impact of Family-Centered Transition Planning using self-report surveys and interview-based surveys. Record review will examine the quality of the transition objectives on the high schools’ IEP using a document analysis checklist. Semi-structured interviews with students and families will explore their transition experiences using qualitative methods. Results will be disseminated through publications and conference presentations.

Project Publication:

Outcomes of a Family-Centered Transition Process for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders (2012) (PDF). David Hagner, Alan Kurtz, Heidi Cloutier, Caroline Arakelian, Debra L. Brucker and Janet May. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities 27(1) 42–50. DOI: 10.1177/1088357611430841.

Funding Source:

A collaboration with the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability (UCED). Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant number R40MC15597.

Funding Period:

September 1, 2009 through August 31, 2011

Contact Person(s):

Alan Kurtz, Ph.D., Project Coordinator
University of Maine
Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (UCEDD)
5717 Corbett Hall
Orono, ME 04469-5717
TTY users call Maine Relay 711

David Hagner, Ph.D., Project Director and Principal Investigator
University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability
56 Old Suncook Rd. Suite 2
Concord, NH 03301

Lucille Zeph, Ed.D., Co-Principal Investigator
University of Maine
Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies (UCEDD)
5717 Corbett Hall
Orono, ME 04469-5717


Institute on Disability / UCED
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