What can we start doing now, at home to prepare our adolescent or adult for independence?
This is a question I am frequently asked by parents and supportive parties who have a neurodiverse adolescent or adult living at home. For most transition-age youth, adulthood is synonymous with independence and freedom. Most adult children will push for increased independence and an allowance of freedom, while simultaneously struggling with the responsibilities that come with the shift towards autonomy. Some families initiate a shift in responsibilities within their family system and household culture by encouraging their young adults to take on household chores, ownership of their personal space upkeep, financial responsibility, and more. There are young adults who embrace this shift in their family system, while many others struggle to embrace the promotion into this new developmental stage and new family dynamic. Keep in mind that transition, change, and the flexibility to shift can be especially difficult for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. Parents and their young adult children can fall into a frustrating dynamic due to this discrepancy. Stress is placed on the entire family system during this transformative time. All the while, parents and supportive parties may have difficulty releasing control and letting go of tasks they performed for their child out of necessity and a sense of security. Making this change as a family is hard! This change can be especially challenging when delaying this shift as the adult child gets older.
So what can parents of transition-age youth and adults do to prepare for the launch into adulthood?
My answer is: Education, Responsibility, and Exploration.
Education: It’s never too early to start educating your child on life skills. Your child will likely receive vocational curriculum exposure in school per VDOE education requirements, but that doesn’t mean that parents are off the hook when it comes to educating and preparing for adulthood. A simple way to integrate life skills and vocational education into the day-to-day activities of your developing child and adolescent is to create learning opportunities out of everyday tasks and routines. When your child asks for help in completing a task, don’t immediately do the task for them and rather coach and teach your child as you support in completing the task with them. This philosophy plays out idyllically in the kitchen regarding cooking and kitchen safety. Empower your adolescent child by teaching them how to make simple meals and allowing them to practice cutting and using appliances with supervision and support. Remember that mistakes are all part of the learning process!
Look into resources in your community to expose your adolescent to vocational curriculum. CA Adolescent and Adult Programs provides virtual Life Skills curriculum and has a catalogue of 11 different topic areas, from Bedroom and Bathroom Cleanliness to Money Management and more! See module library by clicking this link. CA hosts weekly Lunch and Learns focused on teaching Life Skills curriculum to both adults and their parents. Sign up here!
Responsibility: It’s also never too early to allow your child or adolescent to take on responsibilities within the home in preparation for adulthood. You can start as early as elementary age in giving your child ways to contribute to the household. Most individuals can take ownership of their personal space starting at an early age and can be responsible for a clean room or regular hygiene routine (with or without support). Start with simple skills and gradually introduce more responsibility while ensuring that skills are developed and mastered before completely handing over the role to your developing youth. Having responsibilities can be empowering for adolescents and adult approaching transition! Having increasing responsibilities means that the individual has mastered those skillsets. Most of the transition-age youth and adults I work with who are most anxious about launching into independent living are those who have few to no responsibilities in their family home. They are used to others being responsible for them and doing for them. The young adults who are most confident about the transition into adulthood are those who are educated in life skills, have acquired independent living skills within their home environment, and are responsible for most of their day-to-day needs.
Exploration: Show your transition-age youth what independence looks and feels like! Temple Grandin shares in her book The Autistic Brain “kids are not going to become interested in things they don’t come in contact with… I am constantly meeting individuals with Asperger’s or high-functioning autistics who are graduating from high school and college with no job skills. Their parents have let them fall into a routine that never varies and that offers no new experiences.” We know that neurodiverse individuals can have difficulty with abstract concepts. Your developing youth cannot mentally prepare for a developmental stage when they are unable to conceptualize what that next step is. Give your child opportunities to explore independence. This can start with them spending the night out with a family member or friend or going to an overnight camp. When your adult approaches graduation and their eventual transition into independence, encourage opportunities to tour apartment complexes, dorms, and more. CA hosts monthly open houses to allow adults from our community the opportunity to experience a possible next step in their journey to independent living and to ask CA clients about their experiences launching into adulthood. See our AP events here to sign up.
CA is here if you need assistance with information or resources for supporting yourself or loved one with autism. Simply call our toll-free number 800-649-8481, send us an email, or search our resources for autism related services throughout Virginia.