Supporting Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals

“Supporting Teens and Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum: Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals” is a toolkit and online course designed to help parents and caregivers, teachers, siblings, service providers, and others who support teens and young adults on the autism spectrum as they set and pursue self-determined goals. For brevity, throughout the toolkit, when we refer to young adults, we are also including teens. Teens and adults on the autism spectrum may also find this toolkit helpful. This toolkit may also be beneficial to people who support individuals with a range of disabilities.

This publication was developed and written by T A McDonald, Ph.D., and Beth Malow, M.D., MS, with input from Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., Whitney Loring, Psy.D., and Ivy Chen, B.A. Debbie Wofford coordinated the development of the Toolkit. We are grateful for review and suggestions by many, including young adults on the autism spectrum and the people who support them. Graphic services provided by the NICHD core grant U54HD083211 to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. This project was conducted in collaboration with the Frist Center for Autism & Innovation at Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering and was supported in part by an HHMI Professor grant to Vanderbilt University, in support of Professor Keivan Stassun, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Science Education Program.

To download a free PDF of the toolkit or to take part in the online course, visit and click on the link “Setting and Pursuing Self-Determined Goals.”

Thank you to the following partners for assisting with the creation and dissemination of this toolkit and online course:
Vanderbilt Kennedy Center:
VKC Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (VKC TRIAD):
Frist Center for Autism and Innovation:
Autism: Sleep Health, and Wellbeing:

Beth Malow, M.D., M.S. (principal investigator), Burry Chair in Cognitive Childhood Development; Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics; Director, Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Division; Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Investigator and Director, Clinical Translational Core
Keivan Stassun, Ph.D., Stevenson Endowed Professor of Physics & Astronomy; Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research; Director, Frist Center for Autism & Innovation
Whitney Loring, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist; TRIAD Families First Coordinator; Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; TRIAD Director of Training
Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
T A McDonald, Ph.D., Research Instructor in Neurology
Ivy Chen, B.A., Student Research Assistant
Debbie Wofford, Research Coordinator in Neurology

Video Transcript:
– Hello. We wanted to tell you today about a new toolkit to help teens and young adults on the autism spectrum, and those who support them, set meaningful goals. I’m Dr. Beth Malow, professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator.
– And I’m Professor Keivan Stassun, director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering.
– So the toolkit comes in two different versions. On the left is a booklet that you can print out or look at on your computer or tablet. On the right is a web-based course that you can complete on your own time. Both are free. The web-based course includes fun and interactive activities. For example, you will see videos to support goal-setting with coaching, modules on brainstorming goals. And some of the goals may be fairly simple, like going to the gym, you know, getting your shorts, your shirt, finding your sneakers, finding the gym. Others are more complicated goals, like employment. But we break them down into smaller goals and sub-goals, and we pepper these visual rewards throughout the course. We are very grateful to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, including Vanderbilt Triad and the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation for helping support the development of this toolkit.
– This is an important toolkit from the standpoint of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation, advancing our mission to support individuals with autism, to gain meaningful employment, and to be successful on the job. And learning how to set goals, how to strive for goals, and how to achieve those goals is, of course, a very important step toward gaining employment and succeeding on the job.
– So thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day today to watch this video. If you want more information, you can move to the next slide to learn more about the groups that are supporting this work.

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