Everyone makes choices daily that impact life. For example, people decide where they will work, with whom they will live, and in what extracurricular activities they will engage. For individuals with autism spectrum disorders these decisions are often made by others and without the person's input. Lifestyle planning allows people to explore possibilities, brainstorm strategies, and identify outcomes that are typically beyond what is offered by traditional services. Quite simply, lifestyle planning is a method for supporting individuals with autism spectrum disorders in making choices which reflect preferences, areas of strength, and their own visions.
The individual is supported by friends, family members, and professionals to construct a map for his/her life. Below are questions that can facilitate decisions about:
- Would the person be interested in taking classes at the post- secondary level?
- Would the person be interested in taking classes at a local vocational training school?
- Would the individual be interested in taking classes through the YMCA or YWCA?
- Would the individual be interested in taking an adult education class through the community schools or local library?
- Does the person want to be employed part-time or full-time?
- Does the person want to work at one job or two jobs?
- Would the person be interested in volunteering instead of working?
- Would the person be interested in working and volunteering?
- Is the wage important to the person?
- What is the minimum amount of money that s/he is willing to accept?
- Would the person be interested in being self-employed?
- Does the person want to sample a number of different jobs to determine what s/he likes?
- What means of communication does the individual want to use?
- Should different means of communication be used at different times?
- How do the people who surround the person support the individual's communication?
- Does the person want to be able to use the telephone?
- How can the person maintain correspondence with people (e.g., telephone, visits, letters)?
- What are the best ways for the person to receive information (e.g., reading, listening, seeing, or a combination of methods)?
- How does the person get to his/her job?
- Is car pooling possible?
- How does the person get to the grocery store?
- How does the person want to travel to school?
- Are some methods of traveling better than others depending upon the time of day?
- Does the person feel comfortable traveling in a crowded bus?
- What means of transportation make sense now and what are the person's goals for the future?
- Does the person want to hire a driver to get to and from work?
- Is the person eligible for support money for transportation through Supplemental Security Income (SSI), e.g.,
- Individual Work Related Expense (IWRE), Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS plans)?
- What transportation is available if the person wishes to take part in social gatherings in the evening?
- Does the person want to live in a group home?
- Does the person want to live in his/her own apartment?
- Does the person want to rent or own?
- Would the person rather live in a house, an apartment, or a duplex?
- Does the person want to have a roommate? If so, how many?
- Does the person want to live alone?
- Does the person want to live in a foster family situation?
- Does the person want to live with someone in particular?
- Where does the person want to live?
- Does s/he want to live in the city or on the outskirts of town?
- Does the person want to rent an apartment that is within someone else's home?
- Does the person want to live in a dorm?
- How much does the individual feel s/he can spend on rent?
- Does the person want to rent something that is furnished or unfurnished?
- Does the person want to go to a camp?
- Does the person want to go on vacation with his/her family?
- Does the person want to vacation with a good friend?
- Does the person want to go to the city, the mountains, or the beach?
- How does the person finance the vacation?
- What is the person's dream vacation?
- What are other vacations that interest the person?
- Are there any groups that offer scholarships for vacations?
- What does the person want to gain from the vacation (e.g., adventure, excitement, relaxation, socializing, education)?
- What time of year does the person want to travel?
- How long is the person interested in vacationing?
- How long can the person afford to vacation?
- Does the person want to take a vacation? (This might change from year to year.)
- Who does the person want to spend time with?
- Where does the person want to go to make new friends?
- Does the person like spending time with many people or few people?
- What are the person's interests?
- Does the person want a pet?
- Does the person want to join a club or organization that reflects his/her interests?
- Does the person want to get together with individuals his/her own age?
- Is the individual interested in dating?
- What support is needed to continue friendships? Can the person use the telephone? Can the person invite a friend to his/her home? Are friends introduced to the individual's communication system?
- Is it helpful if people support the person by asking if s/he would like to get in touch with someone?
- Does the person have a choice about whom they are introduced to and with whom they spend time?
- How can the person communicate to others that there is an individual that s/he wishes to get to know?
- What is the person's support system doing to assist the individual with learning about relationships and the dynamics they bring?
- Does the person want to make all his/her own decisions?
- Does the individual want others to make decisions?
- Does the individual want the decision making process to be a cooperative effort? If so, between whom?
- Does the person want to have times when there is no staff or family present?
- How does the person feel about socializing with individuals with disabilities?
- What activities interest this person? What kind of books are available to the person? What movies does the person want to see? Does the person want to go to night clubs? Does the person want to go to concerts?
- How does the person communicate in the community?
- Do support staff talk to local merchants or does the person?
- How can the person's support system support the individual to be perceived by the community in the way the individual wishes to be perceived?
- How much and what type of support does the person want? (This may change with different tasks and different days.)
- How much and what type of support does the person need within the home?
- How much and what type of support does the person need when using transportation?
- How much and what type of support does the person need in the community? For example, could a grocery store offer assistance to the individual when s/he is doing the shopping?
- How much and what type of support does the person need at work?
- Can coworkers offer any of the supports that are needed?
- How much and what type of support does the person need to take classes? Can the teacher offer support? Can a friend offer support?
- Is the person interested in getting a canine companion?
- How does the individual want the support person to describe himself/herself?
- What supports can be offered to an individual who does not self- medicate so that the individual feels as if s/he is respected?
- How do the people who surround the person support the individual's decisions?
- How do the people who are in the individual's life support the person to try something new?
By answering these and other questions, individuals with autism spectrum disorders and the people who support them can begin to chart a course for a fulfilling and productive life.
Kalina, N. (1999). The puzzle of lifestyle planning. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Resource Center for Autism.