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Before Turning 18 Checklist

18th birthday - happy birthday gold balloons

At a Glance

We're outlining a simple and integral checklist for parents, caregivers, and families to have in their back pocket before their autistic child turns 18 years old.

Teachers and professionals can pass this checklist along to their student's families.

This checklist covers action steps that many families and autistic adults wish they had taken before reaching 18 years old.

Once your child turns 18, they become an adult from the legal perspective. This is true no matter if your child is not graduating or exiting high school just yet and for individuals across the spectrum of support needs.

We’ll be discussing what to expect and how you can prepare starting today - no matter how old your child is. 

We created this checklist to help you prepare for and build a bridge to adulthood. To help you build a bridge over the after high school cliff that appears for so many autistic adults and their families.

Disclaimer: Make sure to consider the varied support needs of your child and please feel free to individualize per your use. We know that not everyone is in the same place and we created this checklist as a set of general guidelines to consider.

1) Transition Plan

The transition plan is applicable at any age. In fact, you may find yourself using later editions of it throughout adulthood. We find that the earlier you create a transition plan, the earlier you can get started and implementing your action plans. Perhaps you may find more ease and rest easy knowing that you are working towards your goals. Also, having a transition plan can help you put this very checklist into action!

If your child is receiving special education services in the United States, you can sure find this in your child’s Individualized Education Program / Plan (IEP). All schools are required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to have a transition plan added to the student’s IEP by age 14/16. The transition plan lists out your child’s postsecondary goals as well as transition programming and activities  to complete each year leading up to graduation/exit from high school.

If your child is not receiving special education services, we find having a transition plan still integral to this checklist even if your child does not have an IEP. Talking with parents, families, and autistics adults, many wished that they had their own version of a transition plan. You can use this to build a bridge to adulthood by such helpful strategies as goal setting, planning, completing actions steps to help build a bridge to adulthood at any age. Check out our Create Your Own Transition Plan Checklist.

2) Build a Bridge to Community Resources

We’ve heard from many autistic adults anecdotally as well as from the research on young adulthood outcomes, that autistic individuals are more likely to get disconnected from their peers after high school and feel isolated during adulthood. Naturally, being in school versus just being at home as a young adult, you are more connected with people, activities, routines, and social opportunities. 

We suggest - if you haven’t yet, or in awhile - research the community around you. What do you have around you that you’re already connected with? Take stock of what hobbies and special interests your child has and what opportunities in your community can they participate in on a recurring basis (whether that is monthly, seasonally, weekly, daily, etc.) 

For example, for recreation and leisure activities, you can look at Parks and Recreation programming, community centers, Special Olympics, meet-up groups, faith based organizations you may be aligned with, and more. 

We don’t discount online communities and connections, and if that is something your child is into, make sure to include these options as well!

3) Research Legal Rights Options

We reach the legal section of this checklist. It may be the most critical, depending on your circumstances. Once a person - no matter their disability and support needs - turns 18, they become a legal adult and have full rights over their life. Each person is at a different place with their self-advocacy, some individuals may be ready to take it all on, some need a little support, and others need significant legal support.

If your child is not at a place where they can make decisions entirely on their own there are a variety of options available to them and your family. Unfortunately, not a lot of people know about these options and how diverse they can be. A lot of well-meaning teachers and team members at an IEP meeting, for example, may ask only about guardianship and conservatorship. Whereas, these are the most restrictive choices, and many parents wish they knew more about what else is out there.

We recommend that you research more about guardianship and conservatorship and what those all entail, as well as the alternatives such as supported decision-making, durable power of attorney, maintaining a joint bank account, medical power of attorney, and more. You may find a more suitable option for your child and family to undertake.


You may find that some options are more permanent and take a lot of time to reverse, versus others that are more temporary, flexible, and can change over time as your child gets older, gets more comfortable self-advocating for themselves, and has more practice with decision-making over finances, money management, and medical decisions.

4) Learn More About the Medicaid Waiver / Services + APPLY!

The adulthood and community-based services system is a very different playing field from special education services for numerous reasons. We recommend that you check out your state’s information on I/DD services, their Medicaid waiver, and perhaps additional autism/disability waivers your state may provide. 

You will want to know details on the following:

  • Eligibility requirements

  • Waitlist waiting periods (how long an average person is on the waitlist before they receive services)

  • Application information

  • Services options (respite, job coaching, day habilitation programs, community living supports)

  • Provider options (who are the major organizations in your community)

For anyone who thinks their child may benefit from adult and community-based services, we highly recommend you apply for services as early as possible. We want you to get on that waitlist ASAP! In a lot of states, the waiting period can last up to 10 years.

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