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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Parenting Adolescents with Autism

Quality of Life

At the end of the day, most everyone agrees that an individual’s quality of life, both now and in the future, is the best compass. While all parents want to prepare their children to leave the nest and make good decisions about relationships, careers, and personal interests, parents of teens on the autism spectrum need to be extra involved in developing those abilities. These parents often start worrying about how their child will navigate the world as early as preschool. The argument of quality of life versus academic success is not lost on them, but they need to understand their options and the resources that will be required as their child enters adolescence.

A common priority is relationship building. This process involves taking social skills to the next level to identify friendship opportunities and open discussions about dating and intimacy. Most critically, it involves setting short-term goals that are achievable and meaningful. This is a highly charged and intimidating area of development for teens with autism, so frequent successes are important to help alleviate fear and build confidence.

The same is true for skills required for independent adult life. Parents and their child need to agree on critical goals at home for building independence. While these goals may include basic skills like cooking, cleaning, and transportation, they should also include more complicated skills that often stand in the way of later independence, such as organizational skills. To succeed outside of the home, an individual needs to be able to list priorities (shopping, doctor visits, visiting friends, etc.) and to organize the necessary steps to achieve these tasks in a timely manner. Another important goal is learning how to appropriately seek help and advice. Outside of the parent-child relationship, an individual with autism will need to identify appropriate sources of support and learn how to seek out and utilize assistance when it is needed. This may seem like a goal for a younger child, but seeking support is much more complicated at the adult level, especially if one’s social network is much smaller than those not on the autistic spectrum.

While it is important to teach crucial life skills and encourage independence, the goal of ensuring quality of life is important, too. This should start with a team approach to analyzing what exactly “quality of life” means for particular individual and family. One approach is to gather people together in a supportive environment to discuss specific strengths and needs. This would include family, educators, neighbors, therapists, and anyone else who has a meaningful relationship with and understanding of the individual. The goal is to build a profile of how his or her life has progressed up to that moment. Who have been loyal friends? What activities or interests have brought joy? What has succeeded? What has failed? What is the shared vision of the group and how do we get there? What can the individuals sitting around the table contribute moving forward, and who else should be involved?

It is very hard to build an educational program that will need to succeed on so many levels to build independence and ensure optimal quality of life. Without a shared vision and a well-thought out plan, one that includes as many people as possible, it becomes confusing and difficult to stay on task.

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