As you begin to plan for your child with autism, think about what level of independence you expect your child to achieve as an adult. I know it is difficult to have a clear idea of what you can anticipate, but having a general idea regarding how much support you think your child will need can help you when planning for the goals and objectives that are established each year. Aim high! Your child has many surprises in store for you as he/she grows.
Each year as you prepare for your child’s IEP meeting, think about what long term (5 to 10 years) and short term (next 12 months) you want your child to achieve. Parents want their children to achieve as much independence as is possible. Many children with autism will be able to be completely independent; some will need a moderate level of support while a few will need total supervision and support. While it is important that you set your goals for your child high, you also must take time to re-evaluate and adjust them annually, if needed as your child goes through school.
As you begin to review the goals that the school staff members are recommending for the upcoming year, keep in mind your long term plans. Do the suggested goals move your child toward the desired outcomes? If not, why not? Consider additional skills, beyond academics, that your child will need to develop as they grow up.
Think of things that you can do at home to help support your child’s skill development. Activities such as setting the table, helping with grocery shopping and food preparation are all skills an adult needs to be able to accomplish independently. Providing the opportunity to learn and practice these skills at home will support your child’s growth and development.
Keep the skills to be learned as age appropriate as is possible. Most children with autism will need to have specific instruction regarding socially acceptable activities and appearance. As a young child the skill of taking turns and sharing are important to learn. This can be supported at home with play dates and family games or activities.
A teenager needs to learn how to approach someone of the opposite sex and start a conversation. Practicing these activities by doing some role playing at home can help a young person with autism handle these social situations with confidence.
As a young adult, finding and keeping a job becomes important. Again role playing can help develop the necessary skills for applying and interviewing for a job. A clear understanding of work expectations can help a young person keep their job. These expectations can be made into a visual list that can be referred to as needed.
All of these skills are critical for an individual to master to develop independence as an adult. Most of the time your school will touch on these skills, but may not provide as much instruction and support as your child needs. Think about how you can support your child’s development with simple strategies that you can implement at home. Remember, keep your expectations high and ask your child with autism to perform chores and self-help tasks as you would of a neuro-typical sibling as much as possible. You will be surprised at how much your child with autism can do for them, if given enough instruction and support.