As a society, we are familiar with the three R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic that have formed the core of our traditional education curriculum for centuries. But most of us are less familiar with a different set of R’s that students with autism and other learning differences must learn as well if they want to become as independent as possible.
When young people of this demographic transition to adulthood, the three R’s of responsibility, regulation and relationships supersede the academic subjects to become the focus of their learning. While they are still school-aged, these students can access very specific systems and supports via IEP services and 504 plans. Once they age out of school-based programming, though, students must seek out other resources from programs such as Transitions.
Dr. Gina Cosgrove and Dr. Laura Assaf presented to the Transitions community on The Three R’s of Transition, teaching us strategies to support skill building in these essential areas. Here is what they said:
Too often, parents, teachers and caregivers create systems across home and school settings that reinforce a student’s disability rather than empowering them to take more ownership in daily decision making and self-care. Sometimes we focus on over-accommodating a disability at the expense of building a student’s sense of self-efficacy and self-reliance. We can combat this over-sheltering by having an “Independence Plan” in place from the beginning of the student’s experience. This plan will be personalized to the student, but should provide the necessary building blocks that will help them make that important transition to early adulthood. No matter what the child’s ability, they can always have something to be responsible for, and every responsibility will teach them about independence.
The state of a person’s self-regulation skills can be one of the most important predictors for whether they can be in the community safely and access the best opportunities for vocational positions, higher education and living arrangements. But many of us take regulation skills for granted because they come naturally to many people without learning differences. Instead, parents, teachers and caregivers must shift their mindsets to prioritizing this as a critical skill and focus on it through planning for the student’s future. The presentation taught strategies for working on these skills within the adult community and reviewed the importance of teaching the critical role of self-advocacy.
A person’s quality of life is only further enriched by the development of relationships at every stage of life, both within and outside of the family system. While a skills-based approach is important to help students evolve socially, it is also necessary to focus on building networks of support for the individual across their home, schools and communities. Many peer mentoring programs exist to help build that support network across vocational and higher education settings.
Methods for teaching and supporting the development of these skills vary widely, but in all cases, the ultimate goal of parents and educators is to maximize the quality of life for their young people with differences. The best way to do that is to teach them how to make their own decisions and live an independent, self-directed life.