Autism: The Transition to Adulthood

This information is useful for children and adults
autism
Why Yale Medicine?
  • Our program features professionals from clinical psychology, neuropsychology and neuroimaging, child psychiatry, speech-language pathology, social work and genetics.
  • We treat infants, toddlers, preschool, and school-age children, as well as young adults.
  • We are one of the leading research centers in the world, recently named a National Institutes of Health Autism Center of Excellence.

The normal worries every parent has about how a child will adjust to adult life are magnified when that child has autism. Is college realistic? What kind of job might be a good fit? Will he or she ever live away from home? These are understandable concerns.

The transition to adulthood is challenging for everyone, says Fred R. Volkmar, MD, a Yale Medicine Child Study Center psychiatrist and a professor of psychology at Yale School of Medicine. “It’s especially difficult for children on the autism spectrum because their whole support system changes, fundamentally and radically.”

Fortunately, today’s knowledge has yielded treatments that can effectively prepare many teens and young adults with autism to function well in college and beyond. Advance preparation for the changes that lie ahead increases the odds that a child will do well in the real world. At the Child Study Center, we have decades of experience working with young adults with autism and we offer many therapeutic approaches to help them transition into adulthood.

Autism Program

We offer unique approaches to therapy that can make this important life transition go far more smoothly. As a researcher and a clinician, Dr. Volkmar appreciates “getting a chance to learn from younger people developing new ideas and approaches who come into the field fresh, with no preconceptions.” And he says that their new ideas inspire innovations that can quickly make their way into treatment. An example now in development uses virtual reality to teach social skills, such as for dating and job interviews. The idea was the brainchild of an undergraduate student, Dr. Volkmar says.

Also beneficial is the close connection between research and clinical practice, Dr. Volkmar says. “It has been a tradition at Yale to be able to provide high quality care in a strong academic environment,” he says. A highlight in his own career has been seeing how this translates into the lives of his patients, he adds.

At the Child Study Center, Dr. Volkmar begins addressing a patient’s options for independent living when college and career choices are still several years away. He starts by encouraging the child and parents to have conversations about jobs that might be enjoyable and interesting, whether a child’s interests and aspirations are in alignment with her abilities, and what type of college and living environments are most appealing.

Clinical Trials

New treatments for many conditions are tested in clinical trials, which ultimately bring lifesaving new drugs and devices to the patients who need them most. By participating in a clinical trial, you may get access to the most advanced treatments for your condition, and help determine their benefits for future patients.