School’s Out Forever…What Do We Do Now? Navigating life after graduation for those with ASD
Once the last few weeks of summer roll around, parents start thinking about the transition to back to school. If your child has graduated, the road ahead can feel daunting without the daily structure of school. Finishing school is a big life transition. It can be difficult for those with ASD to jump right into post-secondary education or employment once school finishes. Some individuals with autism may not be able to work or pursue further education due to the severity of their disability. Others may be able to continue their education or find employment but need time to acquire additional skills.
With year-long waiting lists the norm, you may be your child’s best resource
My two children with autism, ages 18 and 20, both graduated in June. I have found this transition period overwhelming, particularly because there are no agencies where I live accepting anyone in their programs; all agencies are full with years’ long waiting lists. Out of necessity, I’ve had to come up with a plan to make each child’s day meaningful and interesting for them. It was important to have their input and hear their ideas in order to ensure the choices being offered were right for them.
What makes a good “adult” life?
I’ve had to think about what a good adult life should include, and came up with these parameters:
- a comfortable home
- good health
- meaningful relationships
- being safe in the community
- working at something enjoyable
- participating in leisure activities
- feeling a sense of security about the future
This is the foundation and framework for exploring the options for adulthood. I’ve kept these things in mind as I do my research and planning. While all areas of adult life need to be addressed, they don’t all need to be explored at the same time. This transition is also a process that needs time to gather the necessary information, services and supports.
Here are 10 ideas on how to help your child with autism transition to adult life after graduation
- Make a list of your child’s interests. Think about what could be related to these interests in terms of activities. For example, my daughter is interested in working with cats so once a week, she goes to a Cat Cafe to see what caring for cats is all about. We got her a cat two years ago to help her build cat care skills. She also attends local cat shows to learn about breeds.
- Find a physical activity. Exercise is important for lowering anxiety and improving health. Visit your local recreational center to see what’s on offer. Community centers often have yoga or group fitness classes at a nominal cost. Our children enjoy swimming, bowling and biking and they do those activities weekly. Both kids want to learn how to golf.
- Join a club or group. Clubs are a great way to meet other people who share a similar interest. There are book clubs, gaming groups, bird watchers, sports clubs, bowling leagues, movie clubs – the list is endless. They also offer opportunities for socializing.
- Volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to build employment skills and can lead to a paying job. My children have been volunteering at a farmers’ market for 6 years which has been a great addition to application forms.
- Join an adult support group. Other parents going through the transition process can be great sources of information. Sometimes support groups have guest speakers from local agencies. It’s also a great forum to ask questions.
- Explore arts and culture. Every city or town has special events that could help to expand interests. Our son attends free music concerts, participates in drumming once a week, and has a pass to a museum since exhibits are always changing. Our daughter is interested in dance and wants to take an art class.
- Visit your local library. Libraries offer much more than just books these days. They have clubs, lectures, show films, and offer classes. The best thing is that libraries are free. I’ve been bowled over by what is on offer.
- Consider continuing education courses. High schools and other institutions offer courses for the community. These can be just for fun or teach a new skill like cooking or photography. These can be a good stepping stone to a post-secondary institution by providing course experience in an adult setting.
- Allot time for independent skill development. We’ll be focusing on using public transit to get to activities this fall. Our daughter wants to start baking so we’ll ask her support worker to dedicate time to cooking and shopping for ingredients. Housekeeping skills, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, and using self-checkouts are examples of what could be taught.
- Attend open houses or information sessions at local agencies/organizations. Open sessions are great ways to learn more about what an organization offers. You can also investigate their resource area as there are often brochures about other programs free to take.
The first couple of years out of school are ones of trial and error, discovering what works and what doesn’t. Take one step at a time and don’t worry if everything doesn’t fall into place right away. I have already been working for months on our plan, years in some areas. The important thing is to take it slow, reflect on what is happening, and be prepared to make adjustments as the need arises.
For further help in planning the transition from school to adulthood, have a look at these resources:
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