A parent with an autistic child has one worry: “Will my child live to be independent in adulthood? Will my child be able to handle living on her own, or will he always need assistance?”
It’s understandable to worry about the future. What will happen with the child when you’re not around? Who will offer support for your child? Unfortunately, a child who’s always been cared for by you will have difficulty transitioning to adulthood.
That’s why it’s vital to begin doing everything you can to build life skills as early as possible and promote independence in children with autism spectrum disorder.
What Are Life Skills?
Life skills, sometimes known as daily skills or independent living skills, refer to the set of skills that people use every day to maintain their health, hygiene, and appearance. It also includes self-care activities, management, shopping, transportation, cooking, and room organization skills.
Daily living skills are one of the most important skills one must learn. An individual learns these skills over time. It begins at home, at a very young age, and develops through adolescence and adulthood. Learning these life skills is critical because it applies to many areas of life, such as:
- Home living skills
- Health and safety
- Career path and employment
- Leisure and recreation
- Personal finance
- Peer relationships and social communication
How Can You Teach Life Skills?
You can teach an autistic individual life skills, but every autistic person is different. This means that the pace they are taught will vary from person to person. While some adults with autism can live on their own with little support, others need help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Most people with autism benefit from hands-on instruction in life skills they can learn at home, at school, and in the community. Life skills classes or programs are a common way to learn these skills, usually led by a therapist or a teacher. The classes occur in natural environments where the taught skills relate directly to the environment the child is used to or will live in.
There are several ways you can use to teach life skills at home, usually following a three-step approach:
- Assess the skills. Figure out the child’s strengths and difficulties. It will help you clarify the goals you set and provide supportive encouragement along the way.
- Teach new skills. Use visual aids like charts to offer support.
- Practice these skills. If one wants to master a skill, one must practice it in a realistic setting.
Strategies for Promoting Independence in Autistic Children
By promoting independence in children with autism spectrum disorder, stress can be reduced on families and caregivers. Independence can also set autistic children for success in the future, so they become independent functional adults.
Starting early will ensure that people with autism will get the tools they need to increase self-esteem and lead to more happiness in life. In the following paragraphs, we will present some strategies for teaching independence in children on the spectrum.
Have Realistic Expectations
Please do not force your child to do things they cannot currently do. For example, if your little one has fine motor skill delays, it would be unreasonable to expect them to tie their shoes without any training, even if they can put both their shoes on by themselves.
You can also set attainable goals that can be either short-term or long-term, like completing a dressing routine independently.
It’s also important to start small and break big skills into tiny steps. After selecting the target skill you want to work on, focusing on each step individually will reap success. By breaking the task into steps, you will create an easier-to-remember routine.
The time to prepare your child for independence is right now. It would help if you didn’t wait for your child to be a teenager to start teaching life skills. The earlier, the better. A child as young as two years old can start dressing up on their own, cleaning up, and doing other independent tasks. As much as you can, insist that your child should do things by himself.
Communication is a top concern for independent children. If your little one struggles with the spoken language, you should find tools (social stories, visual support, sign language) that help the child express preferences, desires, and feelings. Whether your child is nonverbal or minimally verbal, there are tips you can put into place to encourage your child to communicate and practice safety. You should teach your child to express hurt, ask for a break, food, water, or know his address and phone number.
Introduce a Visual Schedule
A visual schedule will help a child with autism transition from activity to activity with less encouragement. This way, your child will know what to expect and have a straightforward daily routine. Occupational therapists say that they experienced great success using this method. Visual schedules will help cultivate good habits and independence, practice decision-making, and pursue his interests.
Work on Self-Care Skills
Brushing teeth, combing hair, and going to the toilet are all part of the self-care routine and are essential life skills. Introducing them as early as possible will help your child master them later in life. Introduce these in the child’s schedule so the little one can get used to them as part of their daily routine.
Most parents take these self-care skills for granted after their children reach a certain age. However, children on the spectrum tend to hide these developmental milestones, so they need more practice to master them.
Seek Outside Help
Remember that you are not alone in this, and you shouldn’t do it alone. It’s a good idea to get your child used to receiving instructions and help from other adults. You can check programs and free resources available that can help you teach important life skills. Nowadays, most public schools have occupational and speech therapists that can help your little one.
If you believe that your child needs assisted living in adulthood, start planning during high school and college. Many residential programs cater to the autism community, and they will allow you to ease your child into the new arrangement.
If you want to teach your child independent living skills, it’s crucial to use reinforcement. By doing so, your child will know what steps are being done correctly. You can reinforce a point by giving your learner his favorite snack, extra video game time, or access to other activities.
Practice Money Skills
Kids with autism need to learn the importance of money to help them become independent in the future. To achieve security and financial independence, the autistic child must learn to use credit and debit cards, manage their bank account, and balance a checkbook.
No matter what abilities your little one currently has, there are ways to teach them the necessary money skills. Sit down with your child and make a list of future expenses like rent, medicine, personal items, groceries, and other costs. Allow him to hand over the money to the cashier, for example.
Build Leisure Skills
Your child needs to learn how to take a break. He should be able to engage in independent leisure and recreational activities. Most autistic people have special interests in one or two subjects, which can help translate into the appropriate activity. You can find plenty of activities that your child can get involved in, such as team sports, swim lessons, music groups, martial arts, etc.
In addition, make sure your child knows how to request a break. When overwhelmed, find a place where your child can calm down. Consider offering noise-canceling headphones and other self-regulating tools.
It’s a difficult task, but it’s important not to give in to behaviors. If your child is struggling with a particular task, they might exhibit some negative behavior to get out of completing the task. They must complete the task instead of avoiding it and ignore all tantrums.
In addition, don’t do everything for your child. It’s easy to do everything your child can’t do when you are in a rush, but it’s not helping them learn the necessary skills. Make sure your child has multiple opportunities to practice or rearrange the schedule to allow extra time for a task.
One final tip to remember: be patient and consistent. Teaching independence will take some time, and you shouldn’t be discouraged by negative behavior. Your little one will become an independent adult and live a successful life in no time.