As parents, all we want to do for our children is to raise them in a way that they can grow into confident and competent adults. This can be challenging enough in itself, but when you have a child who experiences difficulties with speech, social integration and some problematic behaviours this can become even more overwhelming. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unfortunately not something that people can grow out of and is a lifelong disorder. However, with support and good preparation, children with this disorder can grow into confident and successful adults.
As a parent there are a few things you can do to set them up for the adult world and make this transition easier for them.
1) First, know what is involved
Early in your child’s life try and consider what things they might need to be able to do if you were not there. This can range from basic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and being able to buy groceries (involving simple maths) to more complicated tasks.
2) Know where your child is at
Get a good understanding of your child’s unique strengths and weaknesses and what they want out of life. This will help you to focus on strengthening the areas that are going to be most important to them as adults, opposed to focusing on things that they probably don’t really need or are not concerned with. For example, when it comes to leaving school, knowing how to cook and clean for themselves is likely going to be more important than knowing Pythagoras theorem.
3) Set tasks
Based on the skills you feel will be important for them to have in adulthood, set up a checklist of tasks to help establish these skills. These should be realistic and based around your child’s unique abilities.
A nice example to spark some ideas can be found here: http://www.spannj.org/Family2Family/adolescent_autonomy_checklist.htm
Be aware that not all of these tasks will be appropriate for your child depending on their strengths and weaknesses, but it provides a nice place to start when considering what they might need to be able to do. Approaching adulthood with a good understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and setting realistic goals for them will help to improve their confidence, self-efficacy and reduce setbacks overall.
4) Encourage decision-making
Try and gradually involve your child more and more in the decisions that involve them (a good time to start this is around grade 9 and 10 at school). This might look like helping them choose their elective subjects at school, meeting with the school counsellor together and them having input around their extracurricular activities.
5) Consider employment opportunities
Around Grade 10 is a good time to begin considering options for your child after school. Again you will need to consider their strengths and weaknesses as well as their interests. You may be able to approach some local businesses and discuss a volunteering or trainee position. This not only helps them to get used to the working world, but also helps them to try out a variety of career options and see what inspires them.
6) Fill in the gaps
There may be some areas where your child might struggle with some of the tasks required for independent living. This is where government and community support comes in. Before your child finishes school, gain a good understanding of what support will be available to them as an adult and try and utilise this to fill in any gaps between the tasks required and their abilities. This can be a joint task with your child as involving them in this process will give them an introduction to many of the services they will likely be dealing with as an adult.
7) Always have a plan B
One of the most important lessons you can teach your children is that sometimes, despite all the planning things just may not work out. Be prepared to show this yourself through the planning process and try to have some back up options available where appropriate. By continuing to have a flexible and positive approach to your child becoming an adult, they will feel more competent themselves and feel confident in being able to tackle the adult world.
8) Finally, be prepared to take a step back
Remember that the key outcome from this stage in life is that your child becomes as independent as possible. This means that although you’ve probably given them lots of guidance and support through their life, you need to begin to take a step back and allow them to learn and do things themselves to develop this independence. As with all the other steps above, this again needs to be done while paying mind to your child’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you would like a professional assessment for your child and further guidance on what support they might need in the next stage of their life, counselling may be helpful. Contact your GP for further information on how to access a psychological professional. For further information on moving into the adult world when you experience ASD, please see the following links.