A Successful Transition to Adulthood for My Child With Autism

All parents worry about their child’s future. Many of us wonder what our children will be like when they grow up. Will they go to college, join the military, find a good job and be financially independent? Will they have healthy relationships and become parents themselves?Are the concerns of a parent of a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) any different? Except for some young adults who come back home to live with mom and dad (temporarily one hopes), parents of neuro-typical children don’t usually worry if their child will be able to live independently. Unfortunately, worrying that your child will be able to live an independent life as an adult is a very big concern for parents with children on the Autism spectrum.How will my child transition to adulthood?How do I make sure my daughter can manage on her own when she is an adult?What will happen to my son when I am not around anymore?These are not the cries of parents whose children have ordinary needs but those of moms and dads whose children have the special needs that come with a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.Our assignment as parents is to prepare our children for a life of independence, regardless of our child’s level of ability. This is not a job that we can or should postpone. This is a task that should begin early on, like the bank account or college fund some parents are able to set up at birth. But we all know that every child’s independence extends beyond the financial aspect and has more to do with acquiring basic life skills and mastering daily living tasks.This journey begins with having a positive vision for your child’s future.What kind of person do you want your son to be as an adult?What opportunities would you like to make available to your daughter?Seeing your child as capable of all possibilities is an important mindset to have because what we focus on grows.Once a dream for your child’s future is drafted in your mind, the next and most important step is to determine how you are going to help your child get from point A to point B as you focus on your child’s unique talents. This is a process that can begin at birth and will be tweaked along the way as your child helps you shape it.Here are some things parents need to pay attention to when planning and working towards an independent future for their child.- Start now to expand your child’s social skills. Knowing how to relate to others is a better indicator of success then a person’s IQ according to Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Social skills groups and social thinking classes are great for children with Autism but never underestimate the power you have as a parent to enhance your child’s ability to socialize appropriately.- Help your child develop self-advocacy skills. When our children are young we need to be their advocate but as they grow the balance needs to shift into their court as much as possible if they are to achieve and maintain independence. Every day provides numerous opportunities for teaching self-advocacy skills and it begins with encouraging your child to make choices – choices for dressing, meals, play activities, and even choices for which chores to do around the house. Role modeling advocacy skills for your children will also help.- Educate your child about Autism Spectrum Disorders and where he falls on the continuum. The more informed your child is about her uniqueness, the more empowering it is – especially when done in an empathic manner, always being mindful of where she is developmentally and what she is able to understand. If you start taking baby steps in this direction now your child will grow to be better able to embrace herself as is and access the amazing potential that exists beyond the label that has been given to her.- Get to know the laws inside and out. If your child receives special education services don’t wait until she is in high school to familiarize yourself with the laws that can empower her. There are three laws that overlap to protect you and your child with an ASD that you need to become familiar with right away: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You also want to stay informed of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 8, 2002, which expands the federal role in education by improving the educational lot of disadvantaged students.If nothing else, remember to hold on to hope. Don’t judge or make assumptions about your child’s potential to live independently based on other children with Autism. As the saying goes, “Once you have met one child with Autism, you have met ‘one’ child with Autism.” Your child is unique and his journey to adulthood should be customized to his abilities, not his disabilities.