Transitioning to Adulthood: Help for Older Teens with Aspergers and HFA

The greatest challenge you will face as a mother or father of an Aspergers or high functioning autistic (HFA) child is supporting him or her through the transition to adulthood. As protective (or over-protective) as you may be, at some point you will be ready for your teenager to leave home to venture out on his own into the adult world.

Of course your relationship with your adult child will continue long after he or she leaves the nest, and your loving support can help with “grown-up” responsibilities.

Is your 18 or 19-year-old teenager ready for adulthood? Answer yes or no to the following questions:
  1. Can your adolescent drive?
  2. Can your adolescent make meals and snacks for himself?
  3. Do you get frustrated with your adolescent's inability to complete projects?
  4. Do you give your adolescent opportunities to make his own decisions?
  5. Do you give your adolescent positive feedback?
  6. Do you listen to your adolescent's problems, make suggestions and then allow him to choose how to proceed?
  7. Do you still pick up after your adolescent when he leaves things around the house?
  8. Does your adolescent clean her bedroom?
  9. Does your adolescent complain when her friends are busy, therefore “there’s nothing to do”?
  10. Does your adolescent do a weekly chore regularly without more than one reminder?
  11. Does your adolescent do her laundry?
  12. Does your adolescent handle stress well?
  13. Does your adolescent handle your direction without back-talk or sulking?
  14. Does your adolescent have a checking account that he handles on his own?
  15. Does your adolescent have a healthy hygiene routine?
  16. Does your adolescent have a job outside of your home?
  17. Does your adolescent know how to make money-saving goals and then achieve them?
  18. Has your adolescent ever taken a CPR or First Aid class?
  19. Has your adolescent used any of the community's resources?
  20. If your adolescent is facing a problem with a teacher, do you allow her to fix it?
  21. Is your adolescent able to ask other people questions without being too shy?
  22. Is your adolescent able to make her own appointments?
  23. Is your adolescent able to plan a trip successfully?
  24. Is your adolescent able to plan out her week effectively?
  25. Is your adolescent comfortable doing things on his own?

If you answered “no” to three of the questions above – it should be a red flag that “life skills” are lacking. If you answered “no” to five or more – then your child may not be ready for adult responsibilities yet.

If your parenting goes as planned, your young adult will - at some point - leave home and live independently. Life skills will help your older adolescent to be independent and live on his own, which is the goal of a successful young adult and her parents. But it isn't easy. Older teenagers with Aspergers and HFA often feel they can take the big step towards independent living without possessing all of the life skills they will need to succeed “out in the real world.”

You can help your teenager be independent by encouraging good habits and helping him learn the life skills it takes to be independent.

Below are 15 life skills your teenager will need to learn in order to be successful at living independently the first time she is on her own:

1. Ability to Find Housing

2. Finding and Keeping a Job— In order to live independently, your adolescent will need to have a job. The job will need to make enough money to cover their living expenses, at minimum. Today's happy young adult has a job that contributes to a high quality of life and not just monetarily.

3. General Housekeeping Skills

4. Goal Setting— Defining what it is you want is called setting a goal. Figuring out and taking the actions you need to get your goal is how you obtain that goal. Both of these are important life skills. Learning how to set and obtain a goal are necessary life skills your adolescent will need to be a happy and successful adult.

5. Health and Hygiene Skills— In order for your adolescent to be happy while they live independently, they will need to be successful at keeping their bodies healthy and clean. These life skills are taught throughout your adolescent's childhood and adolescence by encouraging good hygiene routines and healthy habits.

6. Interpersonal Skills

7. Money Skills

8. Personal Safety Skills

9. Stress Management Skills

10. The Ability to Cope with Loneliness— Coping with loneliness is a very important skill on my list of needed independent living skills for adolescents because every adolescent I've ever known has needed it. Adolescents who know how to recognize loneliness as the temporary feeling it is, use their support system and work through their loneliness do just fine.

11. The Ability to Deal with Emergencies

12. The Ability to Find What You Need in Your Community

13. The Ability to Procure and Cook Food

14. Time Management Skills

15. Transportation Skills— One life skill that adolescents need to learn to become independent but generally leave to their parents or caregivers, is transportation or getting from Point A to Point B.

Does your "special needs" adolescent need to know all of ins and outs of each skill well? No. Your adolescent may even get by not having to know one particular skill at all. For example, a young man who has no idea how to do laundry may have a girlfriend who does. This young man may be able to get his interpersonal skills to help with his household skills by convincing his girlfriend to help with his laundry. But, do your best at teaching your adolescent each skill as if they will need it. This will give them the greatest chance of being successful at living independently the first time they live on their own.

Other points to consider:

When your teen behaves badly, you may become angry or upset with him, but these feelings are different from not loving your teen. Older teens need grown-ups who are there for them. They need people who connect with them, communicate with them, spend time with them and show a genuine interest in them. This is how they learn to care for and love others as an adult.

Older teens need support as they struggle with problems that may seem unimportant to their parents and families. They need praise when they've done their best. They need encouragement to develop interests and personal characteristics.

Adolescence is a time for exploring many areas and doing new things. Your youngster’s interests will change, in academics and recreation. He may experiment with different forms of art, learn about different cultures and careers and take part in community or religious activities. Within your means, you can open doors for your youngster. You can introduce him to new people and to new worlds. In doing so, you may renew in yourself long-ignored interests and talents, which also can set a good example for your youngster.

Older teens need parents or other adults who consistently provide structure and supervision that is firm and appropriate for age and development. Limits keep all kids, including adolescents, physically and emotionally safe.

It is tempting to label all young teens as difficult and rebellious. But adolescents vary as much as kids in any other age group. Your youngster needs to be treated with respect, which requires you to recognize and appreciate her differences and to treat her as an individual. Respect also requires you to show compassion by trying to see things from your youngster's point of view and to consider her needs and feelings. By treating your young adolescent with respect, you help her to take pleasure in good behavior.

Older teens need strong role models. Follow the values that you hope your youngster will develop. Your actions speak louder than words. If you set high standards for yourself and treat others with kindness and respect, your youngster probably will too. As teens explore possibilities of who they may become, they look to their parents, peers, celebrities and others.

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