Part Two: Transitioning to Adulthood with Autism Spectrum Disorder

….Second of Two Part Series

Transitioning to Adulthood with Autism Spectrum Disorder

by Mary Ekdahl, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist,

Arkansas Families First, LLC

Emotions/Mental Health: Just like most adolescents, adolescents with ASD will make considerable progress in the ability to regulate their emotions and maintain self-control as they mature.
Learning Self-Regulation and Self-Expression: Behavioral problems are often related to the individual’s capacity for self-regulation of emotions, and their ability to communicate effectively. Many young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder are still learning the skills for self-regulation and self-expression. Psychotherapy can be an appropriate source of support in encouraging the young person to continue to work toward these goals.


Excitability and Impulsivity in the Adolescent Brain: The brain of an adolescent and young adult undergoes a transition of its own. A stage in which there is increased agitation, excitability, and impulsivity is normal.
Co-Occurring Mental Health Concerns: Individuals with ASD have high rates of co-occurring ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression. These conditions will usually need separate consideration and treatment.
Promoting Independence in Stress Management: There are many types of stress management techniques: activities such as art, music, writing; physical activity; managing the sensory environment; communicating emotions to trusted others; muscle relaxation techniques. Young adults should develop habits for using these techniques to keep stress levels in check. They should also learn to recognize their own signs of stress.


Risk for Addiction: While risk rates for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders are generally low, some evidence suggests that higher functioning individuals with social anxiety may have an increased risk for alcohol or substance abuse.
To prevent, be proactive in addressing social anxiety since this is a primary risk factor.
To treat, make sure the provider is aware of the needs of the individual as relates to both Autism and Substance Abuse


Intimacy and Sexuality: Sexual Adjustment is Strongly Related to Social Skills: Focusing on development of appropriate social skills and peer relationships can be an important protective factor in preventing unhealthy sexual behavior.


Sex Education for Teens and Young Adults with ASD: Adolescents and young adults should be provided with information about normal sexuality, healthy sexual relationships, and the risks of sexual behavior and how to avoid risk.
Safety and Sexuality: Young people need guidelines for appropriate social boundaries, and how to assert these boundaries.
Addressing Inappropriate Sexual Behavior: Therapy can be helpful in addressing most inappropriate sexual behaviors. Most inappropriate behaviors are the results of lack of understanding with regard to appropriate boundaries.


Some Resources for Young Adults with ASD and Their Parents
Arkansas Families First, LLC, (501)812-4268, is a behavioral health clinic that provides a variety of services including individual and group psychotherapy, medication evaluation and management, and psychological testing services. Visit our website for articles on a variety of topics, as well as lists and links for resources. We offer PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills). This is a 14-week evidence-based social skills intervention for motivated teens in middle or high school (ages 13-18) who are interested in learning ways to help them make and keep friends.

Autism Speaks at is now offering new tools for adults with ASD, including the Community-based Skills Assessment (CSA): Developing a Personalized Transition Plan. This tool was designed to assess an individual’s knowledge, skills, and social communication abilities to assist in planning for the transition from school to adulthood.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome (2008) Tony Atwood. A favorite resource for many, this book provides an in-depth description of many of the difficulties typically faced by individuals with ASD. This book also contains suggestions for addressing many common difficulties. Some chapters are devoted to issues for adults with ASD.

National Autism Indicators Report: Transition into Young Adulthood 2015. This report was released just this month and presents survey data that looks at characteristics of youth with ASD as they transition to adulthood. The entire report is very user friendly. It is available to download free at:

The Science of Making Friends: Helping Socially Challenged Teens and Young Adults by Elizabeth A. Laugeson, Psy.D. There is also a free app (FriendMaker) to accompany this material. The app shows examples of appropriate and inappropriate social interactions, and summarizes important information found in the book.

For Professionals:
Autism Spectrum Disorders in Adolescents and Adults: Evidence-Based and Promising Interventions by Matt Tincani PhD (Editor), and Andy Bondy PhD (Editor),  & Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder by Fred R. Volkmar (editor). These books are written for professionals who are involved in providing services to individuals with ASD. Both provide an overview of areas of concern and evidence-based approaches for addressing these concerns.