Parents Are The Best Coaches
Your child with high functioning autism or Asperger’s has a lot of potential for an independent future, including meaningful relationships and competitive employment (ie, getting a job where he or she is chosen over someone else). The barrier for him or her is not likely to be hard skills such as academic achievement, but rather soft skills, and specifically social communication skills. Social communication practice for young people with autism needs to be pretty much a full time focus, over a wide variety of situations and circumstances, over the course of many years. Because of your knowledge of your child, your commitment across the years, and your connectedness to their everyday experiences, you the parent are the best social communication skills coach for your child.
Home and family life, and all the activities and social engagements in which you circulate with your child, provide you with unique and continuous opportunities to coach skills that he or she will need for adult life. But what you really need to be teaching your child with ASD is probably not what you focused on for your “neurotypical” children. The soft skills generally and social communication skills in particular are areas that parents usually need to give only minor attention to when raising neurotypical children. Moreover, parents often get confused and frankly side tracked during the school years into focusing on grades at school, and later supporting college. This is good parenting, right? Of course you want your child to be well educated, and there is a lot of focus and pressure surrounding grades and homework during the school years. Moreover, this approach usually works for neurotypical children, and your child with ASD may have strong academic interests that you hope could translate into a good job as an adult (and for which a college degree may be required). But educational focus misses the point that after their education has ended, most young adults with high functioning autism or Asperger’s still struggle to form meaningful relationships and get and keep competitive employment that is in line with their interests and abilities. The statistics on this are very disheartening. While you should of course support your child’s education, your primary focus needs to be on the social communication skills that are most important to his or her future as an independent and happy adult.
The good news is that you are best positioned to be your child’s coach for social communication soft skills, and you can have a huge positive impact in this area! The bad news is that you may be unsure what to focus on and how to do it, and your child may even be oppositional to you as his or her soft skills coach. We hope that we have those problems covered with our blogs at ifautism.com and our books published by Future Horizons (Autism and Employment: Raising Your Child with Foundational Skills for the Future, by Tew and Zajac, and 101 Positive Steps Toward Employment and Independence for Young Adults with Autism, by Tew). We will also take specific questions (see IfAutsim Connection and Q&A) and do our best to answer as many as we can. We hope that with these tools you can feel empowered as your child’s social communication skills coach, and that your child will respond with positivity to your guidance.