In sharing my journey of living with autism with providers and families, I have found that one of my most favorite topics to discuss is the transition to young adulthood. The young adult years were when I really started to see my life begin to change and I started to have more ownership regarding what I wanted my life to be.
One of the most common questions I am asked is: “What did your parents do to help you prepare for a successful transition to adulthood? Also, what can other parents or providers do to help facilitate a successful transition for their teen or those they serve who are transitioning from high school?” First, let me say that everyone handles parenting differently. The intent of my joining the staff at the Indiana Resource Center for Autism is not to tell parents of children on the spectrum how to effectively parent their child, but simply to share my experiences in the hope that I can help make your experience with autism a little more enlightened.
Therefore, here are a few strategies we found helpful as a family in preparing for my journey to adulthood:
Have a Plan and Plan Early
My parents began paving the road to adulthood at 13. As to my part in all this, they began to increase my responsibilities in the areas of independent living and self-care along with giving me more freedom. By the mid-teen years, my mom started discussing the ins and outs of all my diagnoses with me and how they affected me along with getting me comfortable with talking about them in the presence of a wide array of people where appropriate. This was to prepare for potential discussions with peers, college professors, and employers in the future. The teen years can be a great time to practice self-advocacy skills.
The World Is Full of So Many Interesting Things to Do
In preparation for employment, my parents and teachers recognized when I was very young that I was good at writing. They consistently encouraged me to write stories and to show people my work. Usually, I would, and they liked it. I was so proud of what I had done, particularly when I teacher had said what I had written was good, that I would keep writing.
In early high school, I also started giving talks for fundraising purposes. People noticed I was good at that, too, and I loved connecting and interacting with the audience. Now, I make a living writing and giving speeches. My parents really allowed me to explore my interests: swimming, reading, Harry Potter, playing with the dog, etc. However, they knew, as well as I, that those would always be hobbies. I doubt they could become something I enjoyed that would be sustainable enough to bring home a paycheck.
I think that is something really important to consider when working with teens with autism. Many young people on the spectrum can have restricted or intense interests. You will find this out with me, too, once someone starts talking about The Beatles or dogs. However, I think it’s important to understand both for the young person and the parent, whether an interest will ultimately remain an interest or if there is potential for it to become an employable skill.
Hooray for Time Away!
One of the best things my parents may have done in terms of social skills building in my pre-teen and adolescent years was to send me away to summer camp for a week with other teens with and without developmental disabilities. I was also on a year-round swim team with kids without disabilities which proved to be a great social outlet and addition to my physical fitness routine. While every parent may not feel comfortable with sending their child to a summer camp, there are probably resources and programs in your community available to serve those on the spectrum as well. I think the big factor involves having time away from the parent or guardian to just be around other kids, because in adulthood, typically, mom and dad are not there as much.
Nassim, A. (2022) A Few Strategies for A Successful Transition to Adulthood. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/adria-strategies-for-successful-transition-to-adulthood.html