In the book “More than a Mom” the author states, “No matter what our child’s level of ability, he will do best in the future if you help him develop practical skills now.” Basic living skills are a huge stumbling block for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder when making the transition from living at home to living semi-independently or totally independently. Kristy Anderson at the University of Wisconsin – Madison conducted a research study on young adults with ASD transitioning into independent living and discovered that “young adults with ASD resided with a parent or guardian at higher rates and for longer periods of time after leaving high school than young adults with emotional disabilities, learning disabilities or intellectual disability.”
Temple Grandin summed up the main reason for this when she pointed out the issue of social cues in the following quote, “In the 50s and 60s, kids were taught how to shake hands. They were taught how to have manners. There needs to be a lot more of that kind of stuff because the autistic mind doesn’t pick up the social things and subtle cues.” The schools have been focusing on the academic learning of students on the spectrum, so the practical skills training needs to be taught at home by the parents and guardians.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines independent as, “not subject to control by others, not requiring or relying on someone else.” The above study found that 9 out of 10 young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder never tried to live away from their parent’s home after graduation from high school. Why is that? Most likely due to a lack of basic living skills.
Basic living skills consist of being able to make a bed; operate a washer and dryer to complete laundry; basic hygiene such as brushing teeth, combing hair, and putting on deodorant; preparing a nutritious meal plan and shopping for groceries; setting up and executing a monthly budget; knowing how to search on google to find answers to questions; and finally, keeping a clean, organized space free of clutter. This is just a simple list of skills. There are many more basic skills that people do every day that need to systematically be taught to high-functioning people with autism.
As a parent, our role is tremendous in teaching our children these basic skills. Overwhelmed was an understatement for how I felt at the beginning once I realized this concept. However, once I dove in and started, it became easier and easier. One step at a time. Once the skills are brought to our minds, situations to teach them soon follow. One thought to keep in mind is to focus on one skill until it is taught completely and learned, then it is time to move on to the next one. Eventually, the compound effect takes place, and several skills will be added to the completed list.
Temple Grandin has a famous quote that states, “Different, not less.” Teaching basic practical living skills to children on the spectrum is something that can no longer be ignored. If the schools, parents, and community work together we can create a world where people on the spectrum can live fully functioning, productive lives either semi-independently or totally independently.