“My Asperger’s son (high functioning) is 18 (almost 19). He has a D+ average here in his last year of high school. He took the same math class twice and failed both times. He just failed his Spanish class and got a "D" in history. I'm ready to tear my hair out in complete frustration. He's not working even part time (although he is supposedly looking for a job). He doesn't have a vehicle because I refuse to pay for gas. He spends his spare time playing video games on a computer that he paid for with money that his grandma gave him (so I can’t take that away for punishment). And he says he has no interest in going on to college or technical school in the spring of next year. How do I light a fire under him?!”
After 12 years of academics, it can be hard for any teenager to leave home and break out on his or her own. But, it is especially hard for teens on the autism spectrum due to the fact that their emotional age is much youngster than their chronological age (i.e., they are less mature in general compared to their “typical” peers). Unfortunately, it's very common for older teens on the spectrum to have poor motivation to find a job, whether the work is part-time or full-time.
When young adults with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) feel “incapable,” they try to feel “capable” by holding on to the “familiar” (e.g., playing their childhood games, staying at home with their parents, etc.). An AS or HFA adolescent who feels incapable will stay in bed, avoid homework, fail to find part-time employment, avoid making plans to continue his or her education past high school, sit on the couch, and withhold overall involvement because it gives him or her a sense of being in control. To the mother and father, the behavior looks like pure “laziness” and lack of motivation. But the young adult sees it as the only way to have power over what’s going on around him or her. The thought of being a “grown-up” with adult responsibilities is overwhelming.
The AS or HFA teenager who uses resistance as a form of “control” lacks both problem-solving skills and social skills. It’s important to define the difference between the two: Problem-solving skills are the skills that help AS and HFA teens figure out what other people want from them, how to give it, how to deal with people’s behavior, expectations and demands, etc. Social skills are the skills that help these teens learn how to talk to people, how to be friendly, how to feel comfortable inside their own skin, how to read body language, how to show empathy, etc.
All teenagers, regardless of their age, are motivated. The question is, motivated to do what? Play video games, or get a job? Live in the basement, or go to college? If young adults with AS and HFA appear to lack motivation, the parent has to look at what they are accomplishing and assume that this is what they are motivated to do. Thus, part of the solution is getting them to be motivated to do something else. To assume that these young people are unmotivated is a counter-productive way of looking at things. They are indeed motivated – they’re motivated to stay in “childhood mode.” Remaining a “child” means resisting and holding back to exercise control over their impending transition to adulthood (and as you know, children on the spectrum are very uncomfortable with transitions, and “change” in general).
So, what is a parent with an AS or HFA teen to do given this awkward set of circumstances? You have to become your child’s personal “life coach.” Here are some key points to get you started:
1. First, you will need to determine whether your AS or HFA child is “people-oriented” or “goal-oriented” (note: most individuals on the spectrum are more interested in things than people). Offer incentives that cater to your child’s personality. For example, if she is people-oriented, the two of you can plan a tour of the local college or technical school with a few of her friends. If she is goal-oriented, create a list of milestones for the coming months. If she reaches those milestones, congratulate her and discuss what her hopes are for the future.
2. Explain the numerous benefits of having a job – and an income! This can include increasing your adolescent's disposable income, saving for big-ticket items such as a car, college or a home, and even having benefits such as health insurance. Include in your explanation the fact that many of his friends are likely to have jobs already.
3. Help your adolescent find a job. Let all your friends, coworkers and family members know that he is looking for work, and ask these people to inform you if they learn of any employment opportunities. Assist your teen in looking online, in want ads, or by driving him to job interviews. Practice mock interviews and job-related questions with your teen, and help him write or spruce up his resume. Provide ongoing encouragement if his first few attempts to seek employment are unsuccessful.
4. Make “to do” lists with your child. If she needs motivation to do chores, create a master list together. Check off the accomplished items as she completes them. Does your child need motivation to do well in school? Help her create a schedule that details how long she should study in each subject and what assignments are do. Is she of the age when most of her peers are working at least part-time? Help her create a list of businesses in the community that hire high school graduates. Check off each place of business she applies to. You will be her “coach” throughout this. She needs to know that she has what it takes.
5. Observe your child’s interests. Don’t “ask” her what interests her – simply watch. See what she spends most of her time doing and what topics make her perk up. Your child will be most motivated to pursue the things she already has an interest in. For example, does she like to read? Then you may have a potential librarian on your hands. Help her explore the ins-and-outs of pursuing a degree in Library Science.
6. Provide small rewards when your teen takes steps in the right job-seeking direction. This could be a gift card for going on a certain number of interviews, purchasing work-related clothing, and even a dinner out after a particularly tough week of pounding the pavement.
7. Remove distractions and privileges. If your adult child has everything she wants, she will lack motivation to pursue anything more. Luxury items would be things like her cell phone, computer, TV, video games, going out with friends, and so on. Reward activities such as studying, doing well on a test, and helping with chores by reinstating those privileges.
8. Resist the temptation to perpetually nag your unmotivated adolescent. Nagging yields the opposite result (e.g., teens will often purposefully “fail” their classes just to make a point).
9. Help your child to “keep it simple.” AS and HFA teens are very “visual,” so parents can say something such as, “Here are the 5 things you need to do this week, so let’s write these things down and look at your time. It looks like Wednesday would probably be the best day for you to put in an application at McDonald’s. Does that sound O.K.?” Most AS and HFA teens lack a “game plan.” So this “mountain” that’s actually a “mole hill” that your teen could scale quite easily becomes a huge obstacle in her mind. She starts thinking, “Oh my God, there’s no way I can do all this in one week!” And so instead of actually getting things done, she sits in her room fretting about it. And then the deadline approaches, and she gets increasingly stressed out. Don’t handicap your child by doing things for her. Instead, inspire her by helping her develop a game plan for how to do it herself.
10. If possible, try to find another adult (e.g., friend, family member, mentor, etc.) that would be willing to take your young adult child under their wing. One parent helped her Asperger’s son get a summer job working with his grandfather "pulling wire" as an electrician's assistant, which taught him that manual labor is hard work and he had to start thinking about college. Another parent had her Asperger’s daughter visit her older sister. During the visit, the two of them toured a college that specialized in the interests the Asperger’s daughter displayed. She later attended that college, living with her older sister during the first semester.
11. Use negative reinforcement when needed. List all the negative things that will happen if your adolescent does not get a job (e.g., he will eventually have no way of supporting himself, no health benefits in case of illnesses or accidents, no money for "fun" things, etc.). Let him know that you will be unable to support him or provide disposable income for the long-term.
12. Issue an ultimatum if needed. Tell your adult child that you will not pay for college, a car, an allowance, or even room and board if he does not find – and keep – a job. Give him a deadline to find a job or he will face consequences.
The bottom line is this: If you were an 18- or 19-year-old still living at home with no plans for the future, why would you want to change anything if you got free rent, free transportation, free food, showers when you choose, cable and phone access – and nothing is demanded in return? You probably would not want to change a thing – and who would?
Sometimes we, as parents, simply have to “pull the plug” on free handouts that keep our adult children stuck in childhood. Unearned privileges lead to a sense of entitlement and a lack of motivation. So, if that’s the boat you’re in now, take ownership of the fact that you contributed to this dilemma at some level. But, the good news is that there are ways for you to motivate your child to become self-sufficient, in spite of the fact that he or she is currently stuck in a "comfort zone."
Launching Adult Children With AS and HFA: How To Promote Self-Reliance
• Anonymous said... I do the same with my 16 yr old aspie.. He doesn't do his homework or chores.. xbox is gone .. how long depends on him. I am lucky he does very well in school. He has an attitude here at home, but out in public he is ok. He wants to work and wants to get a car, but I don't believe in handing him everything.. I make him work for it. I gues it depends on his level... Also do you have DDD where you live?? I got my son on that so if he needs anything when he is an adult, he will be able to get it whether it is counseling or housing or whatever...
• Anonymous said... I have a 25 yr old, probably affected by autism. My approach is to respect the developmental delay, while encouraging him to responsible maturity. I required him to be in school, working, actively looking for work, or performing service for others a minimum of 20 hours a week. I didn't take away anything to encourage it, just kept reminding him that those things would help him prepare for a happy and successful future. He has since done two years of community college, worked a year full time and is serving a full time, two year mission, for our church. (Including living away from home and responsible for himself.) My now-ten year old is affected more by autism than his older brother. I am using a similar approach. I keep reminding him that the goals I am encouraging are for his benefit and happiness. I make a point of staying cheerful about it and refusing to engage in fights. I have struggled with the computer issues with both of them. My response is to encourage them to look into careers involving computers. The 25 yr old's first job was testing video games that were being developed. His college education (so far) is focused on computer programming. Programming came easily to him and has the potential for a 'real' career. That is reassuring to me, as a mom. Love him and patiently encourage him to be responsible.
• Anonymous said... I have a 9 year old aspie, and have learned that they require a completely different set of consequences/rules. So IMO when you say you can't take his computer away because you didn't buy it that's not true. Yes you can and hears why. He is STILL living in your house. Everyone living in the same house is obligated to contribute in any way that they can. Sitting around all day playing video games is not contributing. If he is going to continue his bad grades and lack of job hunting because he's not interested, then he needs to part with that computer so that he does not become distracted with all the house work he'll be doing as his part in contributing. Because one way OR another he will help out, and while he is in your home he WILL follow that rule. Until then, the computer is gone. He will be mad he will probbly have the biggest meltdown you have ever seen, but he will step up.
• Anonymous said... I'm in the same scenario. My 17 yr old who will graduate high school in spring 2014 has a D in Spanish and algebra. This week during his IEP meeting we discussed transitioning. The school made it clear to him that he must make up work and go to tutoring to help himself. Unlike your son he does have college aspirations. So I think he will pull it through. His biggest distractions of course is gaming whether on computer or play station etc. Even if he has paid for his equipment if chores or school work suffers there are consequences. He understands them although he always pushes to the line. I also explain to him that he needs to get ready for adult and college life. I will not be able to be there guiding his steps. His counselor also helps with recommendations to get him challenged and keep him focus on the prize.
• Anonymous said... I'm lucky my 13 year old and he has always seen my struggle as a single mum I have worked several jobs and taken my son to work with me at the farmers markets. He can't wait to work he loves to earn money. I think it's been great for him talking to our customers and interacting with all sorts of people I believe If he had never done all this from a young age he would be impossible to get out off his beloved games But mention it's time for market and he is out the door happily
• Anonymous said... Instead of taking privileges away from my son, I allow him to earn them. So he must do what is expected of him BEFORE he gets to play. It has worked like a charm. We dont get paid if we dont show up and do our job...so why shouldnt he adhere to the same rule?
• Anonymous said... My 20 year old is in exactly the same boat - he basically couldn't cope with three different college courses and has been at home since June this year - mostly playing video games/watching tv. He was only diagnosed as having AS in September. He fought about him not trying to find a job (before he was diagnosed) but now I realise he's just not ready. Treatment with CBT will start hopefully around January. It's hard because I'm a single parent, working full time and it's not easy - Jon's only just begun to get ESA payment and with two hungry teenagers the little he gives me from that doesn't help much. I'm paying for private consultations at the moment too. However, Jon's clearly not ready for the real world quite yet! I do set him tasks to do while I'm at work too - encouraged by his psychiatrist. I think I'm in for a bumpy ride ...
• Anonymous said... my son is 17 years old, almost 18. He was headed down the same path that your sons are on. I took away the video games, that he bought, it's still in my house, he had c's and d's while he was playing video games. Now, he is a straight A student, lost over 40 lbs, looks lean and trim. He took on two foreign languages, yes, two! he has signed up for college and is planning on living on his own. He got his first job, and you know what did it? I TOOK THE VIDEO GAMES AWAY! yes, it was a war, but well worth the fight!
• Anonymous said... My son is 18. Gonna follow this thread I have similar problems!
• Anonymous said... My son is almost 20 Aspie and he only got the job when I put restrictions on his game time, and the longer hie went without a job the less time he would have .... worked on this end may work on yours as well
• Anonymous said... My son just turned 7 and is an aspie...he has told us many times he never wants to move out and have his own house - he wants to live with us forever...Not that we force the subject or anything but it comes up when he asks questions about why we go to work etc...I think I am still in a little bit of denial as to how challenging it will be with him when he gets older and is a teenager. I always thought, well he is only 6/7 right now, he will want to leave the house when he is a teenager or in his 20's, but I also need to admit to myself that he very well may not have the drive to want those things on his own. Very helpful seeing other mom's opinions on the matter as I know I will more than likely be dealing with some of the same struggles as we go.
• Anonymous said... People with aspergers tend to have delayed mental and emotional maturity. Just because he might be eighteen physically, doesn’t mean he is that age emotionally, socially, or mentally. I was diagnosed when I was seventeen with Aspergers and it was said (testing) that I was on the emotional level of six year old. Would you expect a six year old to get a job or go to college? I can guarantee that if I have been forced out into the real world at that age, I would be dead by now because my inability to cope and function would have led me to commit suicide, or else be institutionalized if I were lucky. You need to take smaller steps with him. Look into vocational training, try getting him therapy and realize that he just might not be ready yet or even in a few years. You have to stop trying to compare him to the social norm if moving out at eighteen. It isn't impossible, but it may take a little longer.
• Anonymous said... Rather than take a negative approach by taking things away, I would reward him by earning things. For every hour spent at work, he gets an hour on the computer. A clean room equals an hour on computer. Etc.
• Anonymous said... Those rules go for aspies and non aspies alike. I know it seems like he doesn't care at first when you take stuff. But give it time. he will. then use whatever he likes (my son likes oceanography) and look for a job setting that might interest him. You might have to do a little secret checking around to help him narrow down some leads. it might be a bit overwhelming if not. I also would look into the help the school system gives for kids with disabilities as far as tech school goes and some offer job coaches.
• Anonymous said… After years of frustration...we finally found out that part of my daughter's Asperger's was also a Processing Disorder in math....it was all jumbled, her brain didn't know when and how to switch from one function to the other in math. Not being able to filter out noise in a classroom also can add to the inability to pay attention and feeling lost and defeated adds to the lack of motivation and self confidence to even try. I would recommend someone do more evaluation and make sure there isn't an underlying issue that could help solve the first step. Just my opinion from our experience.
• Anonymous said… And if he doesn't have a job....he shouldn't haveb a D average!! Take everything away....YOUR THE BOSS IN YOUR HOUSE!!!!
• Anonymous said… Do you live close to a gaming studio where he can see people making money working with video games? That might help him to have a goal...
• Anonymous said… Does he care that he's failing? Does it seem to bother him?
• Anonymous said… Following. My 15 year old on the same exact path in his second year of high school.
• Anonymous said… Having the same problems here. "Switch seats". Hardest dang thing I've ever had to do. I stepped back and let the school counselor know (she wasn't much help anyways) and now after failing enough last year (insert dramatic eye rolling because I fought this battle the whole year) she has been enrolled in a different high school, with a 504, for credit retrieval, has a 10 class a day program from 8 am to 7 pm, wears a uniform and has become a better student. I have half a head of grey in the meanwhile but somehow by stepping back she is stepping in. And since they know my expectations of her getting a diploma they assume the role of keeping her on track with assignments being finished at school so no more lying about homework or disappearing assignments. Will see at the end of the year if it's worked here but for now it's made my life less stressful (with the schooling part anyways).
• Anonymous said… I have an 18 yr old senior and I swear this fall is when he finally decided to pull it together in school. His grades were abysmal and up and down the past three years. They really do take a lot of time and a lot of pushing on our part. Talk to the school, he should have an IEP and they should be helping him with after school tutoring, extra time for tests etc. Also, yes, you CAN take things away from him no matter who paid for it. If it's getting in the way of him being a productive human(Aspergers or no Aspergers) than you take it away. I've seen other parents do this before with their kids with Aspergers, they're afraid to upset them or push them, take things away. You HAVE to. We took tv & laptop away from our son after he used my fence posts to take his anger out upon. He got the message. Finally. This also helped him get his grades up since he had nothing else to do but actually read/study. As for a job, talk to the school. Ours has a Cooperative Work Training program. They help them with interviews, applications and are getting them internships at places like movie theaters. Talk to the school about community colleges. He may not want to do these things now but he needs a plan. He doesn't need to know what career he wants now, but he needs to do something other than sit on the couch.
• Anonymous said… I took the tv away, tablet, cell phone, and I make my son study his notes every night for 20 minutes. His 52% has turned into a 96% without electronic devices in his life. If he scores good he is allowed to go use the computer at the library for an hour.
• Anonymous said… I would be focusing on why he is like that as lazy as sitting on a computer looks like for people on the spectrum it can be their out their calm time their obsessions. Does he see a therapist? Can u motivate him to do a online course that requires a computer to do. Does he struggle reading writing and understanding language? There is always a reason u just need to find it and turn it around its not easy but possible.
• Anonymous said… If he has an IEP and is not passing school then there should be programs that he qualifies for additional learning. There should be a transitional program as well. My son just started HS and I am seeing a lot of the issues that you are seeing right now. It has been hard but he has had a lot of accountability. I have taken away most his free time. If he can't handle even turning in a paper that I signed for him then he does not need to play on his tablet. I am also working on the school creating a group specifically for kids with Aspergers/ADHD to help with all the frustration of HS. I think we are continually seeing how tough this age is with males with AS (I personally have Asperger's so I know how tough it was for me). Our kids need lots of support - but they also need to pushed to succeed as well.
• Anonymous said… If he lives under your roof, you can refuse to allow him to play video games.. Your house your rules.
• Anonymous said… Is he just not doing his homework? Is that why he's failing, or is it tests also?
• Anonymous said… It's probably because school is boring. Aspergers teens are easily bored. He's not being challeneged. Also sitting all day probably doesn't help either. Someone has to motivate him. Is there a vocational school around you? One where he will do hands on work and learn a trade? It's not always them refusing to do something because they just don't want to. He has no interest. The reason he plays video games all day is because he gets a sense of accomplishment from video games. That's the best way to get an aspergers kid going..... by providing ways he can achieve a sense of accomplishment.
• Anonymous said… It's your house and electricity. I'd take it away and start earning it back. No job is extra work.
• Anonymous said… my 20 jearold grandson tryes very hard to find a suitable job and wants to go to universitat but i cant see him suceed as he has so many other problems because of Aspergers. not eating not sleeping etc. etc.
• Anonymous said… Not sure how it matters that someone else gave it to him, I'd take the computer away anyway of that's the only leverage you have
• Anonymous said… Speaking from experience with my 17yr old Aspie this situation can be a double sword. My son was behaving in this manner and I say was because he no longer lives with us however I took his computer and attempted to get him motivated by not supporting his life of luxury however he became very bitter of me and now after a lengthy battle thinks I'm a phycopath. My aspie doesn't like consequences and holds them against you.....I'm not saying support his habits as I don't believe this is okay but prepare yourself for one hell of a ride.
• Anonymous said… Thank you for sharing my son is up and down from one week to the next. When my son stresses out he just goes the extreme and gives up. Last year my son had to be hospitalized and was failing. This year he has an awesome aide that inspires him. He is getting good grades now. Still has emotional issues. You would think I would be an expert now but they are so unique. My son hates to write. They cut down his homework and allows more testing time. Wish you and your son well.
• Anonymous said… The console maybe his the electricity however is not.......
• Anonymous said… this is what I was talking about; relevant and helpful on our challenging path.
• Anonymous said… We are in the uk but we're living in Spain until our son was 18. At 16 he only achieved 1 pass grade. I took him out of school, got one of the classroom assistants to come to the house every week. We attacked one subject at a time. We found that only concentrating on one subject was helpful. Every evening we would plan for the next day. He would have exercises/ work to do whilst I was at work but not too much, so he could do what he wanted..surf and video games was his thing. Then when I came back from work he had to be ready to focus down again. We would work together for about 2 hours with lots of breaks, change of exercise etc. He then took the exam before we moved onto a new subject. This way he achieved 4 GCSEs and then went onto college to do a course in sport and outdoor adventure. He is now 20 and working in an outdoor activity centre. He still can only focus on one thing at a time. He still has problems with organising his time but he has tactics and ways to help that, that we developed over his 2 home school years. He has no real sense of time and left to himself he would be the same as your son. Giving him a daily time table, jobs around the house whilst I was at work ( empty dishwasher, peel potatoes ) certainly helped
• Anonymous said… Would you not consider going to Therapy? Maybe a good Reality Therapist would be able to guide you? It is so frustrating, but don't give up on him.
• Anonymous said... Humm I would think that the computer is in YOUR house and you are supporting him. You can control the amount of time he is on it. Help him set some goals. Daily expectations, etc for him to work toward. And help him make the plan. Help ease his fear of failure. Get some friends to do some mock interviews. Help him fill out applications. Drive him to to the store and have him introduce himself to the mangers. If he's interested in somethings help him set up a job shadow experience for 3-5 days.
• Anonymous said... I have an 18 year old his biggest problem is total lack of understanding time even the timer became a problem any ideas , please
• Anonymous said... I'm having my 18 year old, volunteer his time. See if you can find something that would interest him. They do want to feel like they are needed. My son doesn't even drive yet, yet he walks 3 miles to go volunteer, so he is loving it. Start them out slow though.
• Anonymous said... Some really good ideas already. As for learning he Clearly through technology is how he will best learn. Ask his teachers if they can help teach him through more visually supported materials, to help engage him in topics. Check to see if there's any educational applications u can use to aid in his learning at home. I design power point presentations for my son when going over topics and use these in the classroom when teaching topics. Then have a reward set for the end of each day once he meets his goals. If he doesn't meet his goals yes no computer time for example which is fine. Due to his learning style u will need to allocate a good hour each day to be involved with helping him learn, I do with my son every afternoon n it makes the world of difference.
• Anonymous said... Let him get involved in something that's an interest to him Is he hands on ? My daughters more practical than academic.
Post your comment below…