Will My Autistic Child Lead a Normal Life?

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The definition of a "normal life" differs from person to person. When the discussion comes up in the context of autism, the term may simply serve as shorthand for a life that allows an individual to pursue an education, hold a job, manage their money, independently perform self-care tasks like cooking dinner, and so on.

If you are questioning your child with autism's future in relation to these aspects of life, that's completely natural—and important. In fact, gauging one's potential for these things is built into autism assessments, transition planning, applications to state and federal agencies, as well as discussions with guidance counselors and financial planners.

Asking yourself questions about your child's long-term abilities and goals prior to young adulthood will allow you to better prepare for their transition into independence.

While there's no one-size-fits-all plan for the path to adulthood, there are some general steps you can take with (and for) your child to set the foundation for a positive future.

Transition Planning

Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act only provides services to young adults with autism until their 22nd birthday, you'll need to begin transition planning by at least age 16.

This will allow you to use your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to set goals for every aspect of adult life—including vocational training, postsecondary education, employment, and independent living—and ensure your child's school district helps her prepare for and achieve those goals, as appropriate.

By starting early, you can also make sure that your child receives the proper assessments on her existing skills, strengths, and needs. This may include the following evaluations:

  • Vocational testing (aptitudes and interests)
  • Educational testing (functional use of spoken and written language, as well as math)
  • Community-based skills assessment (functioning independently in the community, including accessing transportation, shopping, finding appropriate help when needed)
  • Adaptive living skills assessment (daily living skills such as grooming, dressing, cooking, cleaning, telling time, etc.)

Education

If college is part of your child's future, you'll need to make sure she gets her high school diploma or a general education diploma (GED). An IEP diploma is not recognized by institutions of higher education.

You'll also need to arrange for your child to take the ACT, SAT, and SAT subject tests, and prepare for any extra support that's needed in preparation for them. In addition, some colleges may require IQ or achievement test scores for your child to receive any accommodations under section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act.

When prepping for postsecondary education, Autism Speaks offers the following helpful hints:

  • Consider dual enrollments, which allows you to take college courses while still in high school.
  • Reach out to local autism organizations to find a list of colleges that offer support for autistic students.
  • Explore the different options, including vocational school, community or junior college, technical institutes, state schools or liberal arts schools, and online courses.
  • Ask the school to help connect you to other students with autism and their families.
  • Visit any potential schools and meet with the college Disability Services Office (DSO) to find out what type of documentation is required, as well as how accommodations differ from those in high school.

Employment

Finding a regular, solid paying job is tough for the best of us, and even more so for people with autism. Luckily, more corporations and industries have begun to recognize the value of recruiting and hiring adults with disabilities—Ernst and Young, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, Rising Tide, SAP, Walgreens, to name a few.

There's still a long way to go, however, and job candidates with autism typically need to undergo more stringent tests and evaluations than most employees. They'll also need extra support to deal with deficits that can be serious obstacles to employment, including a lack of communication skills, difficulty handling criticism, inflexibility, social anxiety, sensory challenges, and unwillingness to collaborate.

If you start early, you can work with your child's school counselor or agency to determine the best career for your child based on vocation tests, LifeMapping, and aptitude tests.

Knowing this information ahead of time will allow you to plan for training, internships, and vocational opportunities.

Living Arrangements

Planning for and creating an ideal living arrangement for your child with autism is a complex and time-consuming process, so again, you'll need to start thinking about it early. This will also ensure that your child's educational program is crafted to support these future living arrangements.

Start by asking yourself: Where would my child thrive? Is an urban or suburban environment better? What type of support does she need?

While options vary from state to state, living arrangements for adults with autism often include:

  • Living at home with family
  • Housing unit program/roommate
  • Group home
  • Dorm-style large facilities

Your local school district or state agency is a great place to start when looking for a state-run residential setting for adults with disabilities. You can also consult your local autism support groups or search for independent residential centers by state, region, or county.

Autism Speaks offers some things to consider when evaluating living arrangements for a loved one:

  • Health services coordination and medication administration
  • Behavioral and mental health support
  • Career support
  • Community integration
  • Social opportunities
  • Family support
  • Respite care

Independent Living Skills

Helping your child live a "normal" adult life will mean ensuring that she can get dressed, take a bus to work, go to the movies, meet new friends, etc. These skills can take time to develop. By having your child assessed properly, you can ensure that the following independent living skills are part of their education process:

  • Life skills (using the toilet, dressing, eating)
  • Functional skills (taking a bus, navigating the cafeteria, home repair, responding to a medical emergency)
  • Leisure or recreational skills (going the library or playing a group sport)
  • Employment or vocational skills (getting to work on time, interacting with coworkers, doing the job)
  • Social or interpersonal skills (greeting people appropriately, handling romantic relationships, interacting with a teacher, boss, or coworker)
  • Technology skills (using a computer or smartphone, purchasing an item online)

Resources and Support

While there are grants and financial resources for families living with autism, they are generally small and very competitive. It's helpful to learn about the supports and programs in your town for people with disabilities. This can include low-cost transportation, meal services, and volunteers willing to help with inclusion in arts programs, sports, or other activities.

Many families also turn to their local religious communities for emotional and spiritual support. Encouraging your child to volunteer in the community or stay socially connected to others with autism can also help set the foundation for a positive support system in the future.

A Word From Verywell

Adult life with autism looks different for everyone. Your child's challenges may seem limiting now and end up being so, in some ways, in the future. However, there are some people on the spectrum who are fully employed and happily partnered. Many have even become role models for other young adults who seek a full, independent life. These folks, like everyone else, didn't do it on their own. As a parent or caregiver, the best thing you can do is plan ahead and offer your love and support as your young adult with autism finds their way.

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