I have a 13-year-old son with autism. What should I be doing now to help him develop skills to be successful as he moves into adulthood? How can I help him become more independent when he gets older, even if he'll keep living at home?


Gina Badalaty, Parent of 2 kids with disabilities, Professional Blogger

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While I'm not sure what functional level your son is at, I think that one of the first things you should do is understand his strengths and weaknesses, and take stock of where his life skills are. Gage them against what a typical 13 year old child would be doing by now and ask if can do those things, such as getting ready for school on his own, make his own breakfast, clean his room. Once you've targeted specific areas in life skills, take a step by step approach to addressing each one individually.

I'm going to recommend several books that I have found helpful: - "Steps to Independence: Teaching Everyday Skills to Children with Special Needs" by Bruce L. Baker and Alan J. Brightman. is geared more towards lower functioning children, but does include several chapters on independent living skills such as self care, home care and academic skills. This books actually helps you break down any task by goals and lets you design a plan to help your child achieve those goals. - "How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" by Jennifer McIlwee Myers is great because the author is a self-proclaimed "aspie at large." She not only gives valuable insight into how a child with autism or Asperger's thinks, her perspective ranges the gamut since she is highly functional and has a brother at the lower end of the functional spectrum. She gives concrete solutions on what she did to achieve certain skills, such as learning to dress appropriately for a job interview or how she learned the importance of punctuality. - Finally "The Loving Push: How Parents and Professionals Can Help Spectrum Kids Become Successful Adults" by Temple Grandin, Ph.D. and Debra Moore Ph.D. will be released in March, 2016. I'm currently reading it and it is a specific guide on how to help autistic kids, especially adolescents, take steps to be success in their life, including education, work and other skills they need to succeed. Just about any book by Temple Grandin is wonderful because she too provides clear insight on how to be successful as an autistic adult.

You should work together with your son's school to address some of the life skills you may be more concerned about. I've had great success working with teachers, special ed, therapists and guidance counselors to help my children in areas such as speech improvement, behavioral management, social skills, peer groups, life skills and even potty training, as well as significant levels of inclusion and, of course, encouragement in academics they enjoy, like science. I consider school staff part of the team to help my kids learn critical life skills, and we exchange ideas that benefit all of us.

Finally, I also encourage you to have your son participate in activities that are geared for children with special needs or autism. Special Olympics is one of my favorite venues because it covers so many sports. My children thrive in this atmosphere, which focuses on doing your best and gathering with other athletes over competition.

Jenny Bristol, Homeschooling Parent, Writer, and Editor

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Helping your son be aware of himself, his emotions, and his actions, and to learn to spot patterns about those in others, will be a great start toward helping him be more independent. Make sure you have procedures in place for him to follow in the event of different kinds of circumstances, such as emergencies, social awkwardness, being stranded somewhere, and any other scenario you both can think of. Him knowing what to expect and what to do in situations will go a long way to making him feel confident in more kinds of situations. He will know what to do because you will have gone over it and practiced in advance.

Keep lines of communication open with your son. Involve him in every step of helping him get ready for the future. It is very likely that he has a lot more insight into himself than he is letting on, or is able to let on. Finding any way to help him put his thoughts and feelings into words gives him power over those thoughts and feelings.

Autism is a spectrum, and likely only you and your family (and any specialists) know exactly where on the spectrum your son lies. But the lower functioning he is, the more outside help you may need. Discuss this issue with his teacher(s) or any specialists he sees. They will likely have great ideas for helping your son become more independent at home. But in the end, keep talking with him, taking great, patient care to listen to what he says, and help him learn more about himself.

In addition to all of that, help him develop some life skills, such as cooking, basic sewing, cleaning, and personal hygiene. Work with him on vocational skills in any areas that he has interest and ability. Helping him have the tools and skills he will need to have a job one day will allow him to gain independence as well. Regardless of if he still lives with you in the future, he will need some kind of work that he can feel proud of and will help him feel accomplished.

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