Young Adults with Autism

Young Adults with Autism

                The experience of young adulthood is challenging enough without the aspect of Autism thrown on top of it.  Think about it, so much of young adulthood is the social aspect and the experience of getting a job and living independently.  These are not generally strengths of individuals with Autism.

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                They want so much to fit in and be on their own.  Their logical side can come up with the logistics of it- the budget, the plans, etc.  But it is such a challenge for them.  My heart aches for them, as they have these high ambitions with hesitancy and anxiety.  As parents, how can we help our children through this?

Social Skills in Young Adulthood

                Here is the scenario I often see: we push our kids with Autism to get involved socially in high school.  They are going to therapy and social skills classes.  They have assistants in their classes.  Parents follow up with teachers and staff at the schools constantly.  Parents help them through everything.  Then high school ends.  They are expected to possibly attend college and move forward with being an adult.  But they have had so much assistance throughout their childhood that they really do not have the maturity and knowledge to know figure it out.  We have held their hand through these social situations, and now they must do it on their own.

                Individuals with Autism can be very successful in college academically, but socially they struggle.  Many parents would say this is a curse in disguise, as generally they will not be attending the frat parties and get involved with illegal things.  But they begin to realize they do not fit in and anxiety and depression begins to rear its ugly head.

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                Then they begin applying for jobs.  But socially they tend to not know how to interview well.  They may be qualified for the job, but socially they cannot handle it.  Finding a job that does not require a lot of social skills can be difficult.

                Practice interview skills with your young adult.  Give them tips and ideas.  Help them find a job you know they can be successful at.  Use therapists to help with these skills and ideas as well.

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                Another idea is try to keep them involved in some type of social atmosphere.  For example, church groups or groups such as gaming groups might be a good fit.  Use their hobbies as ideas to find groups for them to connect with.  Basically, find a social group that they will likely stay with and enjoy.  I would also encourage the social skills groups, but those can be very therapy based- find something else also that is more natural and enjoyable.

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                There is also the aspect of romantic relationships, which honestly is a whole other post for another day!

Beginning College

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                In our culture today, we put so much success on going to college.  But honestly, people can be successful without college too, especially if it is a struggle for them.  Now do not get me wrong, I think college is great, but it is not for everyone.  If your child is struggling too much with it, do not push them.  Find alternatives such as online college or simply not going for now and focusing on job skills.

                This is the time in their life when you need to step back more and see what he/she is capable of doing.  It is hard for us as parents because we have done so much for them already, but they need the independence skills before they can go out on their own.

                First, find out what their ambitions are.  Have them write it out and make goals.  Have them also have backup plans if their first ambitions do not work out.  Then encourage them through their goals and support in ways you can without micromanaging.

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Moving out and Becoming Independent

                This is a scary step for any parent- watching their child becoming independent enough to move out on their own and support themselves.  With Autism this can be horrifying!  Can they handle the stress and concepts?  Can they pay bills and balance a checkbook?  Will they be able to socially adjust appropriately?  YIKES!

                Again, encourage your son or daughter and help them without micromanaging the situation.  Have them write out their goals and plans.  Take them through the basic steps and allow them to show you they can handle it.

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                But most of all, allow them to make their mistakes.  HARSH I know.  When the mistakes are made, help them clean it up and move forward.  And yes, this may mean moving back in, but now they understand what they need to do and have in order to gain the independence back again.  This section is honestly another post entirely.  But hopefully these thoughts and ideas can help prepare you for the beginning steps.

What to Plan for

                Start thinking now how this will look for your family and your child.  Start preparing them early while they are in high school for the challenges of life after school in adulthood.  Let them help with your billing and budget so they understand the processes behind the independence.  Encourage them to get involved in the social groups and hobbies.

                Being prepared and ahead of the situation is always best, especially with Autism.  Have plans and back up plans prepared.  Try not to push too much, but give them gentle pushes when needed.  And use a therapist to help through these transitions and ideas.  Often they will not listen to you because you are mom and dad.  Allow the therapist to push reality into them, and you encourage them and be their cheerleader.

                These are all things I work with on my young adult clients.  If you need help or ideas, contact me.

                Help your child be as successful as they can be!  Love them, encourage them, strengthen them.  Prepare yourself for being the parent, but also being their support and friend now that they are independent.  Good luck! 🙂

Contact Information

Jen Edwards

720-258-6392

jen@voyagescounseling.com

Ideas for Communication during Autism Meltdowns

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Ideas for Communication during Autism Meltdowns

                One of the most difficult aspects of Autism is the meltdowns.  Especially if they are in public places!  The looks from people and the muttering under their breath never seems to help neither the situation nor your confidence.

                Last Sunday I was at church with my son and he was beginning to go into meltdown mode.  He could not tell me what was wrong and just wanted to draw on the chalkboard.  I was so frustrated because he would not communicate to me what he was feeling or what had happened.  So I finally gave up and let him go to the chalkboard and draw.  Boy was I surprised what came from the drawing!

Drawing a Picture of the Situation

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                My son began to draw on the chalkboard a picture of what had happened.  While he was drawing, he was describing to me his emotions and the emotions of others around him.  He was also explaining to me the situation and what happened to make him upset.

                I was shocked that he had thought of this idea to help him cope with and explain things.  When he was done, he looked at me and said, “That was better mom.  Now I feel better.”  This is something that we will be using in the future to help him explain situations and his feelings involved.

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Writing out the Situation

                Once kids are older, they may want to write out what happened- especially if they are gifted at writing.  A sixth grader I work with tried this the last two times he got upset at school.

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                While he was writing the situation out on the computer, he was able to go back and add details and take out things as he saw fit.  Because he tends to talk quickly and think faster than he talk, this gave him the opportunity to explain the whole story without forgetting things, and he was able to take his time thinking about the situation and how he was feeling in each moment.  Once completed, he was able to share the document with the different people he needed to explain things to, which eliminated the frustration of verbally sharing the story five times over.

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Final Thoughts

                Now, these ideas do not take away the importance of having them verbally process the situation.  We still do that, but it allows them to process in the way they are gifted at processing things without getting more upset.  Appropriate consequences are still given, but the child is allowed to explain things his/her own way.

                I also wait until the child has calmed down enough to do the picture or writing.  For example, I cuddled with my son for ten minutes and my student rocked in the rocking chair and spent time alone with quiet music and a book in a calm room before processing the situation.

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                Will this work every time?  Possibly not.  Part of the trick is teaching them how to do this before an incident happens.  My son’s therapist has been having him draw something about his week each session and my student has been writing about things that have happened in the past.  So they had been essentially practicing for this situation and felt comfortable doing it.  The fine motor skills activity was also helpful in helping them calm down and reduce the anxiety level.

                Certainly there are many other ideas and thoughts for processing after a meltdown.  And of course this can work for kids that are not on the spectrum as well.  Share with me your thoughts and things that work for your children!  Practice these skills with your kids so they can implement them to help them process!

Being an Advocate for Autism

 

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Being an Advocate

                Advocate: to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly (taken from dictionary.com).  Or perhaps my definition: See parenting 101.

                It can be a challenge to be an advocate for someone, especially if they are your child and you are emotionally involved.  But this is an essential part of parenting; particularly for a special needs child.  You advocate at school, clubs, social settings, church, bus, etc.  And it can be emotionally draining and time consuming; but you just do it.

How to be an Advocate

                The biggest part of being an advocate for your child is to truly know and understand what your child needs.  This may take time and effort on your part doing research, talking to doctors and therapists, and knowing how the classroom functions on a daily basis.  However, it does not mean you have to be a professional in Autism; you just need to be a professional in the concern of your child.

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                Here are some tips for advocating:

·         Be sensitive to the situation- sometimes people just do not understand Autism.

·         Take a stand for what you believe is important, but try not to die on hills not worth fighting on.

·         If needed, get a professional advocate to help you.  Parents hire these individuals to help with school needs.

·         Listen to others; try not to always be defensive.  Generally people want to help, but often compromises will need to be made.

·         Go in knowing what you are talking about- do your research and be informed!

Challenges of Advocating

                Today I encountered an organization unsure if they can take my son into their program because of his Autism.  I was floored!  My heart sunk!  Really? I thought… This is crazy! He is high-functioning and does not need direct supervision all the time!  I decided to not jump on the defensive quite yet; I will wait to hear back from them and then if needed, get into my you messed with the wrong mom mode. 

                So, do I go in and yell and make a scene?  Well, after doing that, would you want your kid going somewhere that was now hostile and uncomfortable?  No, I will not make a scene.  I will let them explain their decision and reasoning and if needed, I will counteract.  Is this something worth getting into a huge battle over?  Probably not; I have other options.  However, this may be an opportunity to make a difference.  My biggest challenge is not acting emotional; I need a clear head with a calm attitude.  And I admit- sometimes I turn these things over to my husband (he is much more intimidating!). 

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                Advocating can be difficult.  You want what is best for your child, but you often have to make compromises.  We have generally had good experiences with advocating for our son, but there have been times when we have needed to take a stand.  It can be intimidating at first, but I suppose after a while you just get use to it.  Your skin becomes think, so to say, and you probably do it more than you realize because it is such a big part of your life.

Wrapping it up

                I am curious to hear some of your stories on advocating.  As a parent you never cease to advocate for your child, even when they are grown up.  Like I stated at the beginning, it is parenting 101; it is ingrained in us the moment we become parents. 

                Take your stand; do it wisely.  Be informed and be calm.  Ask others for advice and wisdom.  Be the best parent you can be!

Resources

I did a simple google search on “advocating for child with Autism” and came up with some great resources.  These are listed below.  They are filled with great information and ideas.

http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/community-connections/advocacy-can-make-all-difference

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/12/01/kappan_foster.html

http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/how-become-advocate-your-child-autism-302201945

Explaining Autism to Others

Explaining Autism to Others

                Do you get tired of explaining about your child’s Autism to people?  I get rather weary of it.  It just comes naturally to me now… you go into a new situation, you explain to the person in charge your son has Autism, you give them a few pointers, they usually look at you with a smile and a nod of their head because they do not know what else to do, but deep down you know they are either freaking out or thinking you need to just relax and back-off.

                Back-off.  Those words haunt me today; everyday.  I put my son in swim lessons- it is his first time.  explaining6As we drive there I think through what I need to tell the instructor.  We get there and I talk with her and get the smile, nod, and blank look.  I try giving a few pointers a few times, and then it hits me… why?  Is it necessary that I give pointers?  Is it necessary that I explain beforehand that he has Autism?

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Personal Thoughts vs. Reality

                Yes, it usually is important that I explain he has Autism.  Though I fully admit I want to explain it to defend his actions- that way people do not think he is a bad kid that is not disciplined and is hyperactive and disobedient.  Is that selfish?  I mean, after all, it does reflect back to me.  I always tell myself no, ultimately it is best for him and people generally get pretty upset if I purposefully neglect to explain my son to them beforehand.

                But the question still remains, should I give pointers and suggestions?  Often times I find people who can think of something intelligent to say ask me for ideas and how to accommodate him.  This always makes me feel relaxed and I feel like they go the extra measure to help him and make sure it is successful for him.  Maybe sometimes the ones who do not ask questions need to realize for themselves it is ok to ask questions.  Are they scared to ask?  Maybe it seems rude to ask?  Do they lack the knowledge of Autism and simply have no idea what to do and say?

                Maybe it is like seeing someone for the first time after they have lost a spouse or loved one.  What do you say to them?  Nothing will make them feel better, and it is always that awkward moment.  So if I say to someone, “My son has Autism” what should their response be?  Would it be rude to say, “Sorry he has Autism” or “Oh what a shame.”  What is it I want to hear?  I certainly do not want pity.  Is this how someone feels after a loved one has passed away?  What do they want to hear?

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                So in reality, I suppose people want to know ahead of time that my son has Autism so they know he has sensory issues and is not simply being defiant (though at times I know he is… like this morning when his swim instructor told him to blow bubbles in the water and he insisted he did not want to blow bubbles but was ready to learn how to dive).  (I am sitting here laughing right now… why do I always laugh when I think about my son being defiant?  Maybe this is not healthy…)  Yes, people want to know.  Should I offer suggestions?  Well, I suppose I need to think if it is relevant and necessary.  Is it necessary for his swim instructor?  Maybe not as much.  Would it be for his school teacher?  I would think so.

Emotions

                It is draining explaining Autism so often, nearly every day.  My husband and I believe we can use our son’s Autism for God’s glory and to help others understand Autism- this is why I do what I do.  But emotionally it can get so tiring.

                I dread it when people say to me, “Oh he seems fine” or “Oh he is high functioning”… maybe they do not know what else to say.  And really, what is “high functioning?”  Perhaps another post on my blog at a later time.  I think it is all in the scope of the beholder, but like I said, we will cross that another time.

                Do you ever find yourself holding back on doing things such as outings because you simply do not feel like explaining Autism today?  Yes, I admit I feel this way often.  I do not want to go to the park because I get the strange looks from other moms and kids, and I get the “your kid is throwing rocks at my kid” and then I have to explain.  I do not feel like going anywhere that requires standing in line because he gets hyperactive and asks millions of questions, generating more curious looks and annoyed people who want him to stand still and shut up.

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                There are days I simply cringe at the word Autism.  I love my son; I love everything about him and who he is.  But it is emotionally draining at times.  People simply are not well educated on Autism and thus they just do not understand.  I do not blame them for their lack of knowledge on Autism.  As a society we are becoming more aware of Autism and perhaps my son’s generation will understand as they grow up and become adults what Autism is and how to work with those afflicted with it.

                But for now I cringe and smile and take my deep breaths.  I suppose soon we will need to teach and explain to my son about his Autism, but not teach him to use it as an excuse but rather as a tool.  Good luck to us!  And tomorrow I think I will sit back and say nothing unless the swim instructor asks for help.  I will be one of the other moms with my nose in a book, every now and then peering over to see what he is doing.  But the only difference is I will have gentle tears in my eyes when he accomplishes something, such as blowing those darn bubbles, because this is so huge for him!  Any small accomplishment is critical for us; we treasure them and tell our whole family about it.  My facebook status this evening was about my son trying (after much persuasion) sloppy joes for dinner, and he actually liked it!  Grand for us, boring for others, I know.  Accomplishment… such a big word for such a small kid.

Final Thoughts

                I have no final thoughts except I wish people were more educated about Autism.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to drop him off somewhere and simply say, “He has Autism” and to actually have someone respond back, “No problem, I know how to work with Autism.”  Maybe someday.

                Until then, I educate and I am the advocate for my son and for anyone else out there in my position.  Autism.  It is my life.  It is my son’s life.  It is my husband’s life.  But we will not allow it to control us, we will dominate it.  Because it is our son, and we love him!

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