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Creating Brighter Life Paths for Young Adults with Autism

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their parents often worry about the future as high school graduation approaches. Post-graduation, “there is a huge drop off in terms of services and support for people who are higher functioning with autism spectrum disorders,” explains Jennifer McLaren, MD, director of the Autism Spectrum Disorder programs in the Department of Psychiatry at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) and assistant professor of Psychiatry, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

There are also barriers to employment for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and currently 65-80 percent of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder are unemployed. Only nine percent obtain competitive employment, so many are underemployed–working below capacity, for fewer hours and less pay. Gainful employment has shown to improve self-esteem, hygiene and social relationships for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since 2015, D-H has been working to achieve successful Autism Spectrum Disorder employment through its Individual Placement and Support for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders Program.

Individual placement and support combines vocational and medical services and delivers rapid job search, meaningful employment aligned with client preferences (without long assessment and training periods) and ongoing support (until client can transition solely to on-the-job support or no longer wants assistance). According to D-H’s research on Individual Placement and Support for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders programs-at-large, “People who received individual placement and support were almost three times more likely to work in competitive employment compared to people receiving other types of vocational services. Two-thirds of individual placement and support participants in the U.S. gained employment, had higher earnings, higher rates of job retention, more work hours, improved mental health and greater satisfaction with life when compared to other vocational services/rehabilitation programs.”

Individual placement and support at D-H has helped participants obtain jobs anyone can apply for in education, retail, Big Data analytics and construction. It requires a fee for service, but scholarships are available. The program has capacity for more clients and spots are currently open. Clients and families report positive outcomes and peace of mind.

Building social skills

Starting in the spring of 2020, Mirella Maggi, PhD, pediatric psychologist, will hold an eight-week group session at DHMC for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, aged 18 to 25 years (must be high school graduates). This manualized Social Skills Group course will assist participants with learning and improving social skills. Sessions will include: Trading Information and Starting Conversations, Trading Information and Maintaining Conversations, Finding a Source of Friends, Electronic Communication, Appropriate Use of Humor, Entering Group Conversations, Exiting Conversations, and Get-Togethers. A consequent eight-week session about further topics may be held depending on demand. 

Seasons Promise in Lebanon also offers social skill-building groups for adults 23 to 65 years old. Participants are also welcome in Maggi’s group.

Register for a free family conference today!

To increase awareness of individual placement and support, social skills support and additional Autism Spectrum Disorder resources in the Upper Valley, D-H will hold a free event, “Caring for Transition-Age Youth and Young Adults with ASD” on Saturday, November 16 from 9 am to 12 pm at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, Auditoria E and F. This comprehensive educational program is open to the public, and geared toward families with children with ASD aged 12 and older. 

The event will include learning sessions for parents about:

  • Transitioning out of school (panel discussion);
  • Finding employment and career tips (panel discussion);
  • Understanding the use of psychotropic medications;
  • Learning about sleep; and
  • Understanding the role of neuropsychological evaluations.

The school transition panel discussion will feature community leaders Rhett Darak, director, Student Services, School Administrative Unit 70 (Hanover and Dresden districts in New Hampshire and Norwich district in Vermont); Lisa Maynes, director, Family Support, Vermont Family Network; and Jennifer Pineo, mother of two children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a family delegate for the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in the area of Helping Children with Autism. In addition, Heather Toulmin, LCMHC, founder of Seasons Promise, will hold a learning session about interventions and opportunities for successful social skill building.

D-H providers and staff will lend their expertise to the other sessions. The employment panel discussion will include McLaren; Jonathan Lichtenstein, PsyD, MBA, director of Pediatric Neuropsychology, DHMC; and Morghan Farnsworth, employment specialist, IPS Supported Employment Program, DHMC. McLaren will present information about psychotropic medications, and Nina Sand-Loud, MD, assistant professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, will discuss how young adults with ASD can achieve restful sleep. Lichtenstein will cover the benefits of neuropsychological evaluations during the event’s final session.

The event will conclude with a Q&A and feedback session. Parents will have an opportunity to meet and make connections during a break and after the event.

Children are welcome to accompany parents at learning sessions, or participate in separate recreational sessions designed for them. These will feature making a healthy snack, viewing the Disney movie “Inside Out” and experiencing the Dartmouth Autism Research Initiative’s (DARI) virtual reality station.  

To register for Caring for Transition-Age Youth and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit For more information, contact MacKenzie Cunniff at (603) 650-5860 or

To learn more about the interdisciplinary group of providers, education consultants and resource specialists available through BANDS (Behavioral and Neurodevelopmental Services) at DHMC, visit For details about IPS at D-H, contact Information about the upcoming Social Skills Group is available at  603-650-4724