The transition between high school and college or high school and other postsecondary opportunities brings a lot of changes to the lives of young adults and their families. In most cases, young adults suddenly experience much more flexibility in terms of daily activities and schedule—and unfortunately have fewer opportunities for structured social activities. For adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), such transitions can be extremely difficult due to their specific social challenges. Such challenges may interfere with the ability to successfully form friendships and romantic relationships, navigate college, and later on, seek and maintain employment.
Parents play an important role as social coaches and facilitators of vocational and social opportunities. Below are some suggestions for parents for supporting their adolescent or young adult through the transition to adulthood and toward independence.
Make a Plan
Adolescents and young adults tend to show interest in employment opportunities, greater independence, and social relationships, including romantic relationships and dating. If having close friends or dating is a priority to your child with ASD, it’s important to think about how to intentionally build in more support and social experiences to help him or her to be successful and included in his or her community.
Parents and young adults don’t need to do everything all at once! Once goals are identified, think about priorities. If the goal is to make new friends and build one’s social group, work with your young adult to identify his or her interests and find social activities or groups based on those interests. For example, if your child has an interest in chess, he or she can visit gaming stores, attend tournaments, join a chess Meet Up group, or join a chess club on his/her college campus. It can be helpful to talk about how to identify individuals who may have similar interests. If the primary goal is employment, starting small may include one of the following: visiting a parent’s place of work for a day, participating in extracurricular school activities related to career interests, learning about internship or service learning opportunities, or occupational mentoring to learn and practice work behaviors and gain awareness of a potential professional niche.
In addition to the two planning steps above, a helpful tool for young adults is practicing the different skills or scenarios that might come up in vocational or social situations. Try role-playing interview skills or having a back-and-forth conversation, and give your child feedback or coaching. Common difficulties for individuals with ASD that may need coaching include inconsistent eye contact, dominating the conversation, perseverating on topics of personal interest, talking about inappropriate topics, and body boundaries.
Individuals with ASD may feel misunderstood or disrespected, and become exhausted by social demands, or think of small talk as phony. It is important to praise their efforts and motivation, while continuing to coach around areas of difficulties.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Learn more online at the Autism Society.