Supporting child with autism spectrum disorder through the transition of childhood to adulthood.
The transition to adulthood for adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be challenging, and requires planning and special considerations. As adolescents graduate from high school or receive their certificate of completion, the structured supports they may have been receiving often are terminated, leaving them and their families confused about what resources are available as they pursue college, employment, and greater independence.
Today’s statistics show that most adults with autism (84%) remain living with their parents and nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job. These unfortunate statistics can be changed. Learning about the resources and supports that are available to young adults, and how to plan for adulthood as children are growing, can help families feel prepared to help their adolescent’s transition to adulthood and successfully meet their goals.
To continue improving outcomes for adolescents with ASD as they transition to adulthood, it is important to remember these three key considerations.
1. Health and Wellness
One of the most critical things a parent can do to aid in a successful transition to adulthood is seek out appropriate evaluations to ensure their child has the correct medical diagnosis.
There is a common misconception that evaluations are conducted solely to meet educational needs. This is true of educational evaluations, but not of insurance-based evaluations. A comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation is intended to help the family understand their child or adolescent’s strengths and weaknesses in such areas as problem-solving, memory, attention, learning, and ability to do household chores and self-care activities. Such an evaluation also looks at emotional well-being, to make sure that the stresses of school, extra-curricular activities, social difficulties, etc., aren’t negatively impacting the individual.
An insurance-based evaluation can augment the information provided by the school district to help you and your family learn more about your teen’s functioning and determine which supports and resources will be most helpful during this transition period.
2. Legal and Financial
It is important to take this time to get legal matters in place and understand what happens when your child reaches the legal age of adulthood. For example, speak with your insurance company about what happens when your child reaches adult age, especially if they have been covered under your private health insurance policy.
Decide whether guardianship is necessary and ask yourself the question: Does my child have the ability to be 100% independent? Speak with a lawyer once you’ve decided how much authority you need—and how much independence your child should retain. Orange County has several public law groups that provide information regarding such services at significantly reduced rates, and often hold seminars to help families learn more about their options.
Learn about financial resources that may be available for your young adult, including savings accounts that allow the individual to work and retain financial supports.
3. Social Skills and Safety
It is also important to reconnect with services and support networks that your young adult may have “graduated” from when they were younger, like social skills groups. For example, it’s probably a good time to revisit resources for social skills like problem solving and accountability, which are necessary for adulthood.
Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can complicate the transition process. Be aware that this particular time in your child’s life is a time of risk for mental health disorders. Monitor your child and identify the right person to support the transitional period if your young adult is beginning to show changes in behavior or daily abilities, or has a history of emotional difficulties.
It’s not only important to monitor your child’s mental health, but know the safety risks associated with such daily experiences as social media and the Internet. Check your adolescent’s internet safety knowledge, and identify resources to help them learn online safety as needed.
While every family is different, and therefore may not require the same services or supports, every family can make the transition to adulthood easier by being proactive and prepared.
Anna Laakman is the education and training director for The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, UCI, School of Medicine, and Department of Pediatrics