Raising a child on the autism spectrum can disrupt the normal progression of steps toward independence, and the normal progression of parenting. Your child may gravitate toward his or her comfort zone and reject trying new things, learning about non-preferred things, and socializing outside of a small circle. You the parent may find that you are spending a lot of time protecting, advocating, dodging triggers, limiting what you would like to do, structuring the environment, and guiding your child in a very “hands on” way. Since your child may resist change, you may both get “stuck” in these patterns as the years pass and even as your child moves into adulthood.
One of the most serious consequences of a child and parent being unable to develop normally in their roles over time is that the child’s opportunities to practice independence may be compromised. In my experience, the most independent young people tend to have the best communication and social skills. And these are the most critical skills in adulthood--it is the social and communication skills, not academic or technical skills, that are most connected to positive outcomes in employment. So it is absolutely crucial for parents to focus on their son's or daughter’s independence, and to continually reassess and raise expectations. Because your son or daughter with autism may push back against change, you may need to be resolute and structured to make gains in independence. An actual written plan for daily opportunities for your child (even your adult child!) to practice being more independent, with increasing expectations over time, is ideal. You can hopefully get the cooperation of your adult child, and create a plan together. Please see the suggestions for getting cooperation at the top of the Blogs page (https://www.ifautism.com/blog), as well as ideas presented in our books (https://www.ifautism.com/books), and in other blogs at IFAutism.com such as the Anxiety and Insight blogs (https://www.ifautism.com/post/anxiety, https://www.ifautism.com/post/insight).
A natural first step is to be truly objective about the ways that autism impacts how you function as a parent, and how your child’s independence may be impacted by their autism. The things that you do may all feel necessary, and the things that your child does may be expected, but check to see if there are any that can be eliminated or at least modified in the direction of more independence.
When you are considering which activities you or your child engage in that may be eliminated or modified to help them move toward increased independence, especially look for opportunities for your son or daughter to communicate and socialize independently, because we know that social communication skills are crucial to good outcomes for employment. Do they call and make their own appointments, order their own clothes, make purchases in stores alone, greet others and make small talk (https://www.ifautism.com/post/small-talk), take initiative to independently make plans/organize/communicate/pay for events (decorating their room, planning a party or an outing, etc)? Do they explain their thinking and use tact to persuade, negotiate, and advocate for themselves--do you set it up so that they have to? Do they have a list of coping techniques, keep it updated, and use it (https://www.ifautism.com/post/triggers)? Do you expect them to cope appropriately with setbacks using their coping strategies? Do they independently "blend in" with others (https://www.ifautism.com/post/blending-in), do they remember on their own to smile and look approachable when others are present? Through IFAutism.com’s blogs, Q&A, and books, we hope to offer you a variety of ways to help guide your son or daughter toward independence and employment. Best wishes for your success, and please contact us with your specific questions or needs at IFAutism.firstname.lastname@example.org