Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) or simply “autism,” are a wide-ranging spectrum of disorders affecting cognitive, social, communication and developmental challenges. When you are a parent to an autistic child, taking care of them when they are 2 to 7 can still be manageable. However, as they grow into adolescence and then adulthood, it is our moral obligation to prepare them for a life where they can manage on their own. Though this can require humungous sacrifice and effort on the part of parents, it is important that they embrace this with an open heart and mind, if they want their children living on the spectrum to live the life they want.
Teaching life skills to individuals with autism is difficult. Apart from varying manifestations of the disorders across individuals, it can be strenuous and often requires professional support. We as family members or as parents can only do so much to arm them with the right skills in facing life amid their frailties. We need all the help we can get from people who have the experience and expertise in handling ASDs. These professionals are geared with the right knowledge and familiarity of various skills needed to prepare them in living as independent adults. The key, however, in teaching life skills is to focus on an individual’s core deficits and strengths to bring out the best in them.
Facing the Inevitable Head-on
When you have decided to engage your autistic loved one in developing life skills, it is important that you know what to expect from individualized programs. Though experienced professionals can help teach a variety of skills to your growing child, these patterns must be continued at home to ensure success.
What life skills are considered critical to individuals with autism?
1. Sensory Integration
Autism is a world where metaphors are nonexistent, where everything seems to be confusing. Teaching a loved one living on the spectrum how to process his senses can help him develop communication, social connections, self-awareness, and safety.
2. Communication Skills
One hugely affected skill of individuals living on the spectrum is communication. Verbal communication, metaphors, implied meanings, and other means of communication are limited, sometimes even non-existent, for all those living on the spectrum. However, speech, proper eye contact, and interaction with peers can be taught.
3. Strong Self-Worth
Often children with developmental needs have low self-esteem, and this includes those who have ASDs. For a happier adult life while living on the spectrum, it is imperative that self-confidence and a sense of self-respect be instilled in the minds of an autistic person for them to reach their potential.
4. Interests Engagement
Individuals with ASDs are often discouraged to indulge in their obsessions. It is better to let them pursue these passions and use these to their advantage. An obsession for art or engineering or math can be harnessed proactively leading to useful job skills.
Safety is one concern that never goes away when you have a child with autism. With sensory difficulties, these individuals can have a hard time identifying hazards. This “ignorance” or lack of knowledge and hands-on training can make them subject to abuse. Teaching them safety measures will help them be more aware of abuse or harassment. They can be taught certain precautions and defenses to use should they face unsafe situations. They need to learn how to seek help when they need it.
For someone who has a hard time understanding the world, establishing self-control can be daunting but—take note—doable. By teaching sensory, communication and social integration to individuals with ASDs, guiding them to identify certain triggers and allowing them to discover their own “coping” methods, will enable them to develop self-control.
7. Social Integration
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, developing social relationships can be tough for an individual with autism. This, however, can be improved. An individual with autism can be taught certain concepts to understand some of the different types of relationships he will encounter in his daily life. In addition to family and relatives, they can learn to ask police for directions, find a handyman, or even make contacts to find a job.
One of the most arduous tasks in developing life skills among individuals with autism is guiding them toward self-sufficiency and independence. This can be a hard, rough road for everyone. As parents, being optimistic, patient and persevering can prove to be rewarding later on. With the help of professionals, teaching them how to be organized, responsible for doing household chores, setting and sticking to routines, and self-care will develop a sense of self-sufficiency for the later years in life.
Keeping your child “informed” about what is going on with him and his needs is essential when preparing them for life. Encourage discovery of their developmental needs, and help them recognize their strengths, needs and weaknesses. By knowing themselves, they can better handle difficulties and, in the long run, be of help to others who are like them.
10. Financial Independence
Getting a job and being able to keep it can be quite challenging to individuals with autism. Today, more and more multi-national corporations are hiring individuals with ASDs, making it lucrative for them to learn about nurturing their talents and how to seek opportunities to earn a living.
Indeed, there is a lot in store for individuals with autism. By finding a sturdy support system of professionals and experts, building up their life skills at a young age will definitely result in lasting and rewarding developments to individuals with autism—and make them live a life they choose.
By Pamela Bryson-Weaver, author of Living Autism Day by Day: Daily Reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage. Bryson-Weaver, whose youngest son has autism, is the past president of the Autism Society in New Brunswick.www.livingautismnow.com.