Offering Individualized

Educational Programs For K-12 Students

FOCUS ON THE END GAME – Transitioning to Life After School

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen



AUTISM ACADEMY – Most students have echoed the expression “When I grow up…”, while daydreaming of plans for their future.

Career Technology Education (CTE) programs afford students the opportunity to explore various options with hopes of sparking interests. Most schools offer classes in areas of culinary, wood crafts, home economics, agriculture, engineering, JROTC and more.

At the Autism Academy, CTE classes include coding, culinary arts, teacher aids, and janitorial, just to name a few. Karen Durst is the transition coordinator of the Autism Academy for Education and Development. She says the transition process should start as early as elementary school.

“When a student goes into high school without a plan, then there’s no focus and we experience a high drop out rate,” Durst said.

The dropout rate among Arizona high school students is the highest in the nation, according to a U.S. Department of Education. Arizona is lagging behind in education and business leaders with the highest dropout rate in the nation of 7.8 percent. A transitional plan at the Autism Academy is written in the 8th grade, most often 2 years prior to the state standard.

“We conduct an initial assessment to identify strengths, interests, and preferences,” Durst explained. “The transitional IEP (Individual Education Plan) is very fluid and can change more than 4 times while a child is in high school.”

Educators agree that finding a career field of interest that sparks a sense of passion is important.

“Transition requires structure, as well as trying different things to see what works for specific kids,” she said.

“Our goal is to give kids

with Autism an array of


Students without special needs still require special attention with the state mandated Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP). Durst argues that poor ECAP strategies is the primary reason the Arizona drop out rate is high. She says education plans should align with course work to prepare students for career paths. This is why Durst is creating program strategies that work to help transition students with autism.

“Our kids have to make a head to hand connection,” she said. “We need basic job skills for moderate students that probably won’t be independent.”

Students with autism are often placed in coding, sorting, cleaning, or other structured repetitive jobs.

Durst said, “An important part of transition is teaching kids how to embrace their disability rather than hating it.”

Many students with autism possess the potential to earn a diploma, secure a driver’s license, manage a work schedule, and some even go to college. Students in a rigorous academic environment, with parent support, and an experienced transitional coordinator, are able to set goals, excel, and exceed expectations.