Adulting 101

I don't work with adult clients often, but I do regularly work on life skills/building independence, and pre-vocational training stuff with children and adolescents.

The thing about adulting is that trying to shove a bunch of information and life lessons into your grown child is a bit too late. Especially if we're talking about Autistic adult children who may or may not ever live independently, may or may not hold down steady jobs/have a career, and may or may not attend college or technical school.

Wayyyy before you think you need to start teaching this stuff, is when I recommend teaching this stuff. :-)

For any parent, its a hard thing to look at your 10 -year- old and start thinking about teaching them to do laundry, independently grocery shop, change a flat tire, or shop online. But, if you expect your child to do all these things one day as an adult, then yes, absolutely start teaching it early.

Your teen or adult child can start learning today, to do things like:

  1. Personal care/Hygiene/Grooming
  2. Shopping & Money Management
  3. Electronic Use & Internet Safety
  4. Vocational Training (*which should be a natural extension of interests, hobbies, or strengths)
  5. Driving or Navigating Public Transportation
  6. Time Telling/Time Organizational skills
  7. Employment Seeking (resumes, interviews, etc.)
  8. Self-Advocacy/Assertiveness ---- probably my #1 Adulting 101 skill to teach

For children with disabilities (not just Autism), it may take more time, more repetition, and more real-world practice for these skills to be taught. Which means starting sooner rather than later is the way to go. Think about your own adulting for a second-- when you first left home, did you know how to scramble eggs without burning them? Or manage a credit card responsibly? Or negotiate with a pushy salesman when buying a used car? If you answered "yes" to these questions, then you were far superior to most of us! 

The reality is that whether your child will ever be able to live separately from you or not, as a parent I'm sure you want to help them be as independent as possible, and be able to make decisions about their life/have a say in their own life. Teaching some common 'Adulting 101' type of skills can be the way to do this, and be sure to combine that instruction with actual real world practice. Despite what we may like to think, school will not teach our children everything they could possibly ever need to know by graduation day. Nope.

What do I mean by real world practice? Well, I've worked with high school age clients before who received vocational/life skills training at school, or through a special program that helped them get part-time jobs. The problem was, these skills didn't generalize outside of those settings. If Charles learned to cook chicken breasts at school with Ms. Larson, that did not automatically mean he could cook chicken breasts at home, with Mom and Dad. If Kacey helped out in a local daycare classroom every Tuesday afternoon, that didn't not mean she could successfully baby-sit her younger brother at home.

Like any other skill, life skills need explicit, intensive instruction, as well as multiple generalization opportunities in real world situations. Multiple generalization opportunities means that the instructor/supervisor needs to differ. The setting needs to differ. The materials/items used need to differ.

Don't just teach your child to wash/load the dishes at home. Let them practice at the neighbor's home, at Grandma's house, etc. The steps of the skill will vary a bit as it is generalized across opportunities, and that's a good thing! There are very few adulting tasks that are done the exact same way, every time. We also know that many Autistics lean towards rigidity and sameness of routine, which can be a good thing or can be highly detrimental to learning if it gets in the way of doing something differently. For example, if the sink, dishwashing liquid brand, or the equipment used (e.g. type of dishwasher) change, can your child still wash the dishes?

It is hard to look at your children when they are young and know with certainty what their future holds. That has nothing to do with Autism, I think any parent would agree with that. Since we don't know what the future will bring, it makes sense to start preparing our children for an uncertain future now.

You may be wondering, "How young is too young to focus on this?". It may surprise you to learn that I start teaching life skills (Adulting 101) with clients as young as 2 or 3. Yup, its true. 

A toddler can learn to clean up their toys. A toddler can learn to put their empty cereal bowl in the sink. A toddler can learn to pour their own juice. A toddler can learn to put dirty clothes in a washer, or pull clean clothes from a dryer. Why not?? If your children are young and you don't know where/how to start with this, just start with teeny-tiny baby steps:

  • Let your child help as you complete household chores.
  • Slow down before leaving the house, and let your child put their own shoes on, or put their own coat on, or grab their own bookbag.
  • Cooking is a life skill. As early as you can, introduce no-heat recipes such as making a sandwich or fruit salad.
  • When in public settings, help your child pay for their own meal, or hand the cashier money for purchases. Let your child place items on the conveyer belt at the grocery store, or teach them to shop by giving them a visual grocery list.
  • Allow older children to have some responsibility for younger children. Let your 6 -year-old help you care for the 1-year-old.

There are SO many resources out there for teaching life skills and increasing adaptive functioning. This doesn't need to be hard or overwhelming! 
Ask your child's therapists for help and ideas, or talk to their school and see if there are any specialized trainings, classes, or programs available for students on the Spectrum. Most school districts have far more programs and community connections than most parents know about.

You got this!


Essential for Living  Assessment Tool

Organization for Autism Research: Transition to Adulthood

The Life Skills Lady

Transition to Adulthood Research Findings

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