Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

17 Going on 18: Transitioning Kids on the Autism Spectrum Into Adulthood
The key things to set in motion

by Carrie Bishop

October 01, 2011

Parents of kids with autism tediously prepare their child for a school bus ride. They plan ad nauseum for a family vacation. They work hard to prepare their child for puberty. The list of things to plan may be never ending, and it certainly includes plans for the child’s transition into adulthood.

“Every parent has a dream of success for their children that they will grow up to be independent, happy and live meaningful lives. For kids on the spectrum, there may be more planning that goes into that. It’s never too early to plan for the future,” said Rita Davis, director of community development at Noble of Indiana.

Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center, is on the same page. “Typical kids do a lot of the planning themselves and they know what they want to do and are directing a lot of their activities. As parents of kids with autism, we need to set them up. Their success depends on us and our planning,” she said. She urges parents to make sure plans are starting to fall into place when the child is 14 or 15 in preparation for when he or she becomes an adult at age 18.

Following are key things to set in motion as your child heads toward adulthood.

Develop social skills. Sherry Quinn, founder of The Applied Behavior Center of Indiana for Autism and president of ABA Programming, Inc., believes the development of social competency skills should be a high priority for parents. Young adults who are considered high functioning on the autism spectrum are easily lost in the system. “Without adequate social skills a person may experience trouble in areas such as employment, daily living skills, independent living, and participating in the community,” she said.

Drive home functional skills. Start teaching essential functional skills. Think about what the child is going to be doing as an adult. Will they need to shower independently, navigate the community, use public transportation, count money, make exchanges? These are things Carl Sundberg, executive director at the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (BACA), says parents need to consider. To address skills that affect kids age 9 and up on the autism spectrum, his center has expanded to a second location called BACA Prep.

Kyle Quinn, with The Applied Behavior Center of Indiana for Autism, is also a firm believer in teaching kids on the spectrum how to function in the real world. He advises parents to get involved and help their child practice social skills in real-world settings. “Take your kid and practice with them. The more experience they have the better they become,” he said. That means take your child to Target. Stand in line at the ice cream store. Go to public bathrooms. Get on elevators. Practice.

Determine the right age to leave school. Rosswurm said parents need to determine if their child’s goal is to leave school at 18 or stay until they are 21. “If going to school is their only social aspect and if they have meaningful stuff at school, don’t be so quick to pull them out,” said Rosswurm. Recognize that once school ends, it ends.

Call Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Katy Messuri, social worker with Easter Seals Crossroads, tells parents to contact Vocational Rehabilitation Services while their child is in high school. Vocational Rehabilitation Services is a government program that will help set the child up with employment services like Easter Seals Crossroads, Goodwill, and Noble of Indiana.

Prep for jobs. Messuri encourages kids not quite ready for a job to volunteer to gain experience. Look for opportunities with places your child is already familiar. For instance, one child on the spectrum works as an assistant at Power Kids. Brian Jones, founder and coach of this gymnastics-based program, said he hired the young man because he had exhibited strong leadership qualities and needed training with someone he could make mistakes with before moving into the workforce.

Add daily living skills to the IEP. Kyle Quinn recommends incorporating daily living skills into a child’s IEP so the special education teacher or occupational therapist can help them gain skills that will help them live more independently.

Think of financial needs. Planning for your child’s future must include preparation of their short- and long-term finances. Understand the benefits he or she is entitled to receive and get them signed up for Medicaid waivers as soon as possible. Also it may be important to establish power of attorney or guardianship by the time they are 18.

Continue seeking help. The rules of social engagement change as life progresses from early childhood through adult living. Individuals can seek help from adult support groups, churches, community organizations, and others.

Don’t forget the child’s happiness. Sundberg reminds parents that the measure of success can’t just be in how many skills your child masters or what the parents’ goals are. Look at your child. Are they happy with the direction they are heading?