7 Facts You Need to Know About Teens With Autism
Parents of children with autism face special challenges as their child transitions to young adulthood. Here’s what you need to know.
Contributor: Thomas Frazier, II, PhD
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Many parents struggle when their teen transitions into adulthood, but parents of children with autism can face some special challenges during this time. Here’s what you need to know as your child becomes a young adult.
We start orienting parents toward the transition to adulthood when the child is 6 at the Lerner School for Autism. We focus on teaching social skills and appropriate behavior that children will need as young adults. Parents are also trained to begin working with their children on these skills at a young age.
Even though the symptoms may not be as impairing as they were when the child was younger, with age, the differences between a child with autism and his or her peers become more apparent and everyday social demands increase. So teens and young adults with autism experience more social disability.
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Virtually any teen or young adult with autism is capable of working, given proper training and a job environment that’s a good fit. A child who is low- to moderate-functioning will focus initially on more basic tasks, like matching and sorting.
For higher-functioning kids, with the right supports, the sky’s the limit. It’s just a matter of finding something they’re interested in that matches their abilities.
It’s important to remember that you can’t throw a child with autism into a job like you might with a typical kid. They need step-by-step instruction and coaching on the social aspects, such as knowing how to ask for a break or let someone know they’ve completed a task or how to deal with a difficult co-worker.
The No. 1 thing that schools can do to prepare kids for the workplace is to help them learn how to engage socially in an appropriate way.
Schools can also conduct vocational assessments to learn the child’s interests and abilities. They can then match those interests and abilities to different tasks that could become employable skills. Older students should get help with job placement.
Schools should also teach independent living skills. Even if a student isn’t going to live independently as an adult, he or she needs to have skills to be as independent as possible.
Children with autism often need ongoing support for academic skills such as number recognition or reading and writing.
Very high-functioning children should be oriented toward college, but they’ll need extra support both academically and socially. Fortunately, many colleges are becoming better at providing ongoing support for students with autism.
People with autism need a lot more prompting and education about what’s appropriate socially. This includes topics like sexuality and romantic relationships. You have to coach them on what to say and how to act appropriately in romantic and sexual situations. For parents, this can be a touchy topic, but it’s very important.
Parents need to understand how to teach daily living skills. That means breaking tasks down if they’re complicated, chaining steps of a complex task together, and making sure that you’re appropriately reinforcing completion of the task.
Parents also need to understand that teaching daily living skills to children with autism requires a lot of prompting, much more so than would be expected of kids who don’t have autism.