Preparing any teenager for independence is not a task that happens quickly. Your teenagers’ ability to function in society without you by their side is possible because of the skills you taught them over the course of their lives, whether they have any special challenges or not. As teenagers approach legal adulthood, it’s a good idea to ensure that they are practicing the skills that are most important for thriving in an adult world.
Being able to manage your own schedule and time is imperative to functioning as either a college student or an employee. Because people with autism may struggle with executive functions like planning and staying organized, this is a great set of skills to practice with teenagers.
Tasks for Time Management Practice
- Making and maintaining a daily schedule
- Setting long-term and short-term goals and making plans to achieve those goals
- Departing for and arriving on time for appointments and classes
As teens and young adults become more independent, particularly if they start to work, they will be expected to manage their own money. All teens can benefit from practicing basic money management skills, including creating a budget, opening a bank account, and tracking spending.
Tasks for Money Management Practice
- Opening a bank account and tracking its balance
- Sticking to a budget for necessities and hobbies
- Reviewing credit scores and personal credit reports
Good communication is not only important in school settings and in the workplace, but it’s also the cornerstone of healthy relationships. Teenagers with autism may struggle with interpersonal communication, particularly when it comes to reading social cues and non-verbal communication. Working to help your teen understand their family and their friends as they become more independent will help them build and maintain the strong relationships that are important for a lifetime.
Tasks for Communication Practice
- Active listening
- Gathering information without jumping to conclusions
- Maintaining composure without defensiveness
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is something that virtually every person, no matter what their age, needs to understand and implement. Teenagers with autism may need extra assistance learning how to stand up for themselves, maintain healthy boundaries around work or school commitments, and ask for help when necessary.
Tasks to Practice Setting Healthy Boundaries
- Advocating for oneself in school or medical settings
- Communicating needs clearly
- Understanding how to communicate and maintain boundaries when they are challenged
Hygiene and Healthcare
Without parents to constantly remind them, all teenagers may occasionally neglect showering or flossing sessions. For teens with autism, personal hygiene may be even more of a challenge, especially when it comes to the planning and social interactions required to make and keep appointments with healthcare providers. Parents should encourage teens to make their own doctors’ appointments and maintain a regular hygiene schedule. (Visual reminders may help.)
Tasks for Hygiene and Healthcare Practice
- Scheduling doctor and dentist appointments
- Maintaining a daily dental hygiene schedule
- Bathing regularly
- Knowing when to make a doctor’s appointment for an illness or injury
- Understanding how and when to call 911 in case of a medical emergency
Whether a teenager is going to live independently, in a group setting, or in the family home, teens with autism can experience additional stress during the transition from high school to the adult world. One way to help teens learn skills to deal with the stress of independent living is to consider a summer camp or one of the many weekly camps for teenagers or young adults with autism to help them learn life skills, including stress management.
Tasks for Stress Management Practice
- Learning coping skills for stressful moments
- Setting healthy boundaries (see above)
- Being aware of potential triggers for high-stress scenarios
Planning for the Future
Whether your teenager is planning to attend college or enroll in a career training program for people with autism, such as the Transitions Certificate of Completion in Career and Life, they should be able to research, plan, and make decisions about their future.
Tasks to Practice Planning for the Future
- Research nearby colleges or vocational schools
- Research career training programs
- Find out how to apply for relevant programs
Home Care and Maintenance
Even if a teenager is planning to live at home for the foreseeable future, the more independent they can be around maintaining their own space, the better the situation will be for the whole family. Teenagers should have a good grasp on how to clean their own areas, how to stick to a regular cleaning and tidying rotation for shared spaces, and how to make basic home repairs.
Tasks to Practice Home Care and Maintenance
- Sticking to a regular cleaning schedule
- Maintaining an organized bedroom
- Making simple home repairs, such as changing a lightbulb, efficiently
While this is not an exhaustive list of all the life skills for teens with autism that may be helpful as they gain more independence, it does provide a strong start.