The thing is, our children are getting older. Many of them are no longer kids. They’re young adults, ready to step out into the world. They may or may not be leaving home yet, but they’re definitely wandering farther afield. They’re graduating high school; starting college; looking for work; or learning to drive, take the city bus or ride their bike wherever they feel like going. Some of them are dating. They’re asserting their independence and letting mom and dad know that they’re old enough to make more of their own decisions. Our sweet little babies are gone and in their places are sweet men and women who are beginning to face the world of adulthood.
They may or may not be ready. We, as parents, definitely aren’t ready. But like it or not, here we go.
I’m bringing this up because over the last few months, I’ve been pretty busy. Not blogging (sorry!), but I’ve been talking to parents, K-12 educators, college educators, job developers, employers, adults with autism, government program administrators, service providers and other people who are trying to figure out how to help young adults with mild autism/Asperger’s successfully make the transition to adulthood. Meetings like the ones I’m attending are happening all over the country – small meetings between a handful of agencies, large ones that determine statewide programs, and huge gatherings that draw people from across the nation, all working toward figuring out what we can teach our kids now that will help them succeed as adults later.
Do we know the answers yet? No. In some cases, we’re still trying to figure out the right questions to ask. But we’re making progress. We’re figuring out the reasons why college students with Asperger’s are more likely than neurotypical kids to flunk out of college their first time around. We’re finding the most common reasons it takes our kids longer to learn the work skills that will keep them employed. We’re identifying the potholes and challenges our kids face, and the characteristics and skills our kids will need to overcome them.
I’ve been gathering information so that I can recommend what Open Doors Now (the non-profit I run) should do to help our local young adults succeed in college and the workplace. I am also the mother of a 17 year old son who has mild autism, is 6’2”, is getting ready to graduate high school, and is currently ineligible to receive any sort of state assistance. Is part of the reason I’m pursuing this topic because of a mild (okay – moderate) sense of panic? That could be true. But that’s okay. If autism research is like a mill, slowly but continually producing more and more knowledge about how to help our kids, panicked parents are one of the biggest forces that power that mill.
My third goal (after helping my son and our local Aspie population) is to pass on what I’m learning to you – the parents, educators and Aspies themselves who are looking for solutions now to help yourself or people you care about. My posts over the next few weeks will be concentrating on the issues of transitioning to life after high school, but they won’t just be written for teachers and parents of teens. Educators and parents of younger children, this stuff is for you, too. Many of the skills our kids need to learn to make it as adults are ones we need to be teaching from pre-school age through high school; at home, at school and in the community. Many of the attitudes our kids will need to have are ones you need to be modeling now. Adults on the spectrum (and parents of adults on the spectrum), you can benefit from this information as well. It’s never too late for any of us to do a little self-improvement, and if our efforts make our lives a little easier in the process, all the better.
In addition to posting on my blog, I’ve started sharing helpful links to what other people are coming up with on my Facebook page, ODN’s Facebook page, and my Pinterest account (Autism & Education, and Autism — Adults.) Feel free to check them out.
One of the best things I’ve learned in all these meetings I’ve been attending is that my family is not facing this alone. Yours isn’t either. There are a lot of people, all over the world, who are working to help our kids learn to lead successful adult lives. Together we are going to come up with solutions.
PS. If you think this post is helpful, pass it on to someone else.