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Black teen male with backpack at school. Image links to adolescence ages 12 through 18 ages and stages page.
Adolescents continue to develop in many ways. They continue to develop social skills, form friendships and may begin thinking about romantic relationships. Physically adolescents reach puberty, and internally they begin to form their identity, including gender identity. By the end of adolescence, teens are thinking about the transition to adulthood. Autistic adolescents can continue to receive services through the public school system and community settings. Services may continue to be one-on-one, but they often may be in a group setting. Parents are frequently still involved in intervention for adolescents. Thinking about the transition to work or college also becomes a focus during adolescence. Adolescents are often involved in decisions about their services and goals.

What Should My Child Be Doing?

  • As a teen in early adolescence, entering puberty is expected. Parents/caregivers may notice changes in their child’s behavior as their teen experiences changes in hormones. Additionally, young teens may begin to focus more on themselves and their body image. It is also a time that mood changes can begin for some adolescents, and they may start to experience more emotions that can lead to mental health concerns, such as anxiety or depression. As adolescents reach their later teens, they begin focusing on skills that will help them become an independent adult. Nutrition and exercise are important to both physical and mental health.
  • Communication continues to develop into adolescence, with teens becoming more able to express their ideas and emotions. They may start to communicate more with friends than with parents as they learn to become independent. Friends and romantic relationships become important to adolescents, especially as they mature.

Researchers have highlighted that there are higher rates of gender diversity among autistic individuals

Gender Identity and Autism
It is important to initiate conversations with your child related to sexuality and relationships

How to initiate conversations
To learn more about teaching skills and concepts related to sexuality:
Teaching Skills and Concepts ASNC Webinar
Nutrition plays a vital role in healthy adolescent development; however, it is not uncommon for autistic teens to experience challenges related to food and/or eating

Building healthy eating habits
An additional area of focus for adolescents is beginning to think about their transition to adulthood and what their path might be. It is important for autistic adolescents to develop and pursue goals that they find important and meaningful. Transition planning is a process that involves preparing for how life will be as adolescents transition to young adulthood, postsecondary education, and/or the world of work. This process begins early and is inclusive of adolescents’ strengths, interests, and preferences. The following toolkits provide details related to several areas that comprise the transition process, in addition to information about how to support autistic teens as they transition from childhood to adolescence, to young adulthood:

What services might my child/family want or need?

An adolescent’s services should fit with their age and goals, as well as their family’s values and needs. An adolescent who has difficulty with academics, self-help, or work skills may need support from teachers or school staff, while an adolescent with anxiety or depression may need mental health services. See below for descriptions of services and targeted areas for this age group.

Adolescents can receive services through their school for academic, social, and emotional success. Federal laws direct schools to provide these services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan. These plans outline the services or accommodations an adolescent will receive through their school.

Special education services:
Exceptional Children's Assistance Center

Transition services offered through the school begin by the time a child turns 16, though they may begin sooner. Transition goals are related to training, education, employment, and independent living skills.

Transition Planning

This IEP roadmap from the ECAC includes information about secondary transition.

IEP Roadmap & Secondary Transition
Vocational Rehabilitation provides employment services for individuals with disabilities, including autism. Their transition services are available starting at age 14.
Student Vocational Rehabilitation Services
Some adolescents may decide to go on to college. ThinkCollege has resources related to the transition to college for students with disabilities, including autism.
College Transition Information
The T-Step Program is a collaboration between the North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, The UNC (University of North Carolina) TEACCH Autism Program, and community colleges across North Carolina. The goal of this free service is to teach 16-21-year-olds skills that will aid in their successful transition to employment and postsecondary education.
There are many different autism interventions that have been shown, through research, to be effective in helping teens improve social skills, communication, and independence. For adolescents, interventions may be one-on-one or group-based. Interventions may also be delivered through family therapy.

Occupational Therapy may help adolescents with self-help skills, organizational skills or sensory issuesFind occupational therapists in your area who may have some knowledge of autism. You can enter “occupational therapists” and your zip code to search providers in your area.

Autism Society of NC Resource Directory Autism Speaks Resource Guide

Mental Health Therapy may be helpful for adolescents who have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental health needs. You can enter “mental health” and your zip code to search providers in your area.

Autism Society of NC Resource Directory Autism Speaks Resource Guide
Navigating services can be challenging during adolescence. A care coordinator/navigator helps families access services, get needed help, and communicate with other providers. A social worker may also serve this role in some settings.

Resource and Referral specialists are available at each Regional Center of the UNC TEACCH Program:
TEACCH Resource and Referral Specialists

Resource and Referral specialists are available through the Autism Society of North Carolina:
ASNC Resource Specialists

Care navigators may also be available through a family’s MCO or health plan. For families who have managed Medicaid, you can find your local MCO here:
NC DHHS: LME/MCO Directory

Work Together NC helps individuals find the community supports they need to transition and thrive as adults. This might include finding a job or a place to volunteer, postsecondary education, housing, social and recreational opportunities, and more:
Work Together NC

Where can services be delivered?

Services can be delivered in different locations. Some services are delivered in the school setting by therapists and educators employed by the school, while some providers may work in a clinic, and the adolescents may need to travel to get services. Telehealth is another way services can be provided if the health plan will cover this option. For parents of adolescents, it is important to consider the teen’s goals and whether telehealth is a practical option. Click below to find service providers in your area and remember to ask about the possible locations.

Find service providers who have knowledge of autism

What agencies provide services in my area?

  • The Autism Society of North Carolina has a searchable database to learn more about providers and agencies that provide intervention for autistic adolescents in your area:
    Autism Society of NC Resource Directory
  • If you have a Medicaid insurance plan, your MCO (Managed Care Organization) can provide care management.
    Find your local MCO contact:
  • Several services may be offered through your child’s school via an Individualized Education Program (IEP), including but not limited to speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and Extended School Year (ESY) services.
    Your child's rights
  • Vocational Rehabilitation is a state program that helps people with physical, sensory, mental, emotional, or learning disabilities get or keep a job. Adolescents may be referred to apply for services by a teacher, school counselor, or medical professional.
    Vocational Rehabilitation FAQs:

How do I pay for services?

There are different ways to pay for services. Some programs are publicly funded, and the family does not need to pay, such as services through the school system. Health plans or health insurance often fund part or all the cost of certain services. Although it may be expensive, families may also have the option to pay for the service themselves. If a family is not able to pay for a service, there may be grants available to help cover the cost. 

Many adolescents have health care coverage. This may be Medicaid or a private health plan such as Blue Cross Blue Shield or Aetna. There are a few things to know about health plans. There is a medical plan that covers medical services, such as pediatricians, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. There is also a mental health plan that covers psychological testing and therapy, to treat mental health conditions. Most families with health insurance have medical and mental health coverage. There are also autism or ABA benefits, which are a carve-out of the mental health plan. While all health plans have to offer ABA benefits in North Carolina, not all families have the coverage. In North Carolina, Medicaid covers autism services and therapy. To learn more about your health plan benefits, contact your health plan provider, you can ask about medical, mental health, and ABA benefits. 

Info about Medicaid funding in NC
Some programs are publicly funded and there is no cost to families. Adolescents who have a developmental disability often qualify for these programs, if they are in the age range. 

Adolescents with a developmental delay or qualifying disability are often eligible for free school services. 

IEP Referral Process Special Education Services Information Find the School Coordinator in your region

Some families with an adolescent with autism or developmental delays may be eligible for Social Security Income (SSI). In addition to having a documented developmental disability, there are income requirements.  

SSI and additional funding resources SSI webpage

The Innovations Waiver is designed to provide funding to support adolescents with disabilities in the community. Eligibility is based on an individual having a developmental disability and their level of need. It is not based on income. There is a long waitlist and applying early is recommended. In addition, it may open the door for other services and support. 

Innovations Waiver Info and How to apply

Families apply for Innovations Waiver through their MCO.
Find your MCO/LME

There are also sometimes grants and agencies that provide funding to families in need to help them cover the costs of services as they can be expensive.  

First in Families has fourteen regional chapters across North Carolina and helps families get what they need to participate in their community.

First in Families

Autism Care Today is a national program that provides grant funding of up to $5000 to families. They provide funding directly to the identified treatment providers to cover the cost of services.

Autism Care Today

What community programs may be helpful?

The Autism Faith Network has many resources for how to make a faith community accessible for adolescents with autism. You may also find various family and social support programs in your home church or faith community. 
Autism Faith Network

After-school programs are not just extensions of the school day, they can be a way for adolescents with autism to get academic support, interact with peers, and practice play and social skills. 
Find after school programs in NC

In Eastern North Carolina Trillium Health has partnered with community organizations to offer after-school programs. Students ages 16 and up can participate in Transition to Employment programs as an after-school program.
Transition to Employment programs

Many museums, aquariums, and parks in North Carolina have sensory-friendly days.
Find sensory friendly places and events

Special Olympics North Carolina has programs offered across NC. Athletes can compete in the Special Olympics. 
Special Olympics

Family Support Network of North Carolina offers a statewide directory of summer camps for children with special needs.

More community Park and Recreation Centers are now offering specialized programs in the arts and sports. Contact your local center to see if any programs are available for the disability community.

Daily activities, routines, and resources can be very useful, but sometimes overwhelming for parents and children. The Thrive App was created by a North Carolina Black mother of two young boys with Autism to help families with visual planning and emotional regulation by supporting the way they need to plan and manage their day-to-day activities.


This website does not endorse any particular programs, books, or authors. We intend to provide some resources that may be helpful to families along their journey.

BFAST is a UNC TEACCH Autism Program project in collaboration with the Autism Society of NC and the Frank
Porter Graham Child Development Institute made possible through funding from the C Felix Harvey Foundation

BFAST partnership logos - UNC TEACCH Autism Program logo, Autism Society of North Carolina logo, and the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute