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What Now?

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What Now?

by James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D
Autism Asperger’s Digest | November/December 2013

You can ease your child’s transition to independent living by starting early to develop appropriate goals for adulthood through a good plan.

From the time your child received his diagnosis, you have been told, “You are his number one teacher” or “You must be engaged with your child all the time; that is the most important thing you can do.” You become the keeper of all the knowledge of your child. Professionals, teachers, and therapists come and go, but you are the one that is there 24/7, 365 days a year. Depending on how much your child’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects him, this can be an overwhelming and time-consuming process. When your child turns 18 or 21 (again depending on where he falls on the spectrum), it is time to let go. He is now an adult and will begin his journey into adulthood. But how do you let go when you’ve been so involved in his life for so many years? You have worked tirelessly to help your child achieve all he has, most of the time at the expense of your own interests.

The natural progression of life is that your children grow up, leave the house (that seems to be done later and later these days), and embark on their lives without mom and dad. This should be the same for your child with ASD, too. However, it is easier said than done. Depending on the abilities of your child, there are not always many options; living at home tends to be chosen often (out of sheer necessity). This is not healthy for the family nor the child with ASD. Therefore, exploring your options and putting a plan together is the most important thing you can do to ensure that your child can experience all that life has to offer as an adult.

Create a Profile

Start by documenting what your child likes and dislikes. This way others can get to know him before even meeting (consider video recording the child, if appropriate). This profile should include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • bathroom and dressing habits, which would include the level of prompting the individual may need.
  • what the individual likes when it comes to music, television, computer, or gaming activities, as well as what he likes to do when not engaged in any of the previously mentioned activities (e.g., going outside, walks).
  • what he likes to eat or drink.
  • what are his sensory needs? Does he like it cold? Warm? Is he sensitive to noise?
  • any habit you can think of that makes your child unique.

(Adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood by Danya International, Inc., Organization for Autism Research, 2006).

This will guide you in the decision-making process. It will keep you focused on your child. Whenever possible, include him in this conversation.

Consider All Options

For the more challenged child on the spectrum, do your homework. Get your name on every list for any service that is available. I always tell the families I work with that they can always decline a service. By exploring all that is out there, you educate yourself and find more options for your child. This includes living arrangements, work opportunities, and recreational and leisure activities. Many services can also be delivered at your home. Always be receptive to further opportunities.

For the less challenged child on the spectrum, the same holds true. The more options you have, the better able you are to make an informed decision with the help of your child. His interests and aspirations need to be taken into account, while weighing what is appropriate and doable for all family members.

Prepare for Transition

For families, change is all about the scary unknown. Many times in the child’s life, the family has had to make transitions (e.g., elementary to middle school), and sometimes it’s harder for other family members than it is for the child with ASD. Begin this process of independent living as early as possible, which will not only assist the child, but will also prepare you for the transition. You will have greater control over how it is done, in what environments it will occur, and with which individuals. Do your homework and know the agency or service provider that will be providing services for your adult child. Get involved with the provider if you can. By starting early, you can refine your plan and be ready for whatever comes your way.

Letting go can be tough. You can ease your child’s transition to independent living by starting early to develop appropriate goals for adulthood through a good plan. Explore all options, include your child and family in the process, and get to know the service providers. This process can be a whole new adventure for both you and your child!



James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D, has been working in the field of autism for 20+ years helping children, teens, and adults with ASD. Learn more about Jim’s services on his website.


Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Distribution via print is prohibited without written permission of publisher.

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