As parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we are so busy getting our children the supports they need now, we do not have time to think too far into the future. If your child is a teen or young adult with autism, now is the time to plan for his life after high/secondary school.
Unlike children without ASD, our kids face unique challenges as they transition to adulthood. Things that other children pick up instinctively are foreign to our children.
The transition to adulthood is a topic frequently addressed by Dr Peter Gerhardt. Dr Gerhardt has over 30 years’ experience working with older children and adults with ASD. He states, in practical terms, the issues our children will face as adults with ASD and the need to develop transition plans for them. Developing this plan begins by reflecting on several questions:
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- What is the goal(s) for my child after second level/high school education? A job? Further education?
- Where is my child going to live after he graduates? At home? At school? Independently?
- What does my child want to do after graduation? Is his goal(s) realistic and achievable?
- What do I want my child’s social life/social circle to be after graduation?
- What is he or she going to do for leisure activities?
- Is my child going to be part of a religion?
- What are my child’s interests?
- What are my child’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How can my child’s strengths be used to achieve our goals?
- Will my child’s weaknesses interfere with achieving our goals?
- If so, can we do anything to minimize these weaknesses?
- What skills does my child need to learn for life after graduation?
Use these questions to start a discussion between your child, you and your child’s school about planning for your child’s future. Central to these discussions should be the quality of life you want your child to have as an adult.
Dr Gerhardt recommends thinking about what skills your child needs to develop or improve on to help with his or her “personal safety, community integration, transportation, health and wellness, sexuality and aging” – which he describes as essential life skills. He emphasizes that real world skills need to be taught in a real world environment and not in a classroom. For example, if you are teaching a child how to grocery shop, go to an actual grocery store.
Gerhardt states that it is necessary to prioritize the skills needed for the transition to adulthood. He suggests prioritizing skills that are “useful across multiple environments” such as safety skills, functional communication, self-monitoring of behavior, personal mobility and self-advocacy.
With regard to successful community integration, he notes that skills such as “polite eating, good hygiene, appropriate sexual behavior and aggression avoidance” are needed and may not be developed properly in young adults with ASD.
Include the following items in your child’s transition plan:
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- Assessment of your young adult’s needs, interests, and abilities
- Preferences for education, employment, and adult living
- Steps to take to support achievement of these goals
- Specific methods and resources to meet these goals, including accommodations, services, and/or skills related to the transition goals
- Instruction on academic, vocational, and living skills
- Identification of community experiences and skills related to future goals
- Exploration of service organizations or agencies to provide services and support
- Methods for evaluating success of transition activities
- A timeline for achieving goals
- Identify people or agencies to help with these goals
- Clarification of how roles will be coordinated
- A plan for identifying post-graduation services and supports, and obtaining the necessary funding
Planning for life after graduation for an adolescent with ASD is complicated but essential. This post provides an overview of the various issues that need to be examined and can help you get your plan started. Always keep in mind that it is your child’s life and you should get her views when planning for the future.
For additional information on this topic see:
Bridges to Adulthood for Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders* – slides from a presentation by Dr Gerhardt
*Sources for this post