Parenting Adults with Autism
The goal of any parent is to see their child grow into an independent and happy adult. When your child has autism, getting them to independence and happiness may take a different path. When young children are diagnosed with autism, it can seem like there’s an abundance of information and resources. Early intervention, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, ABA therapy, school services…and an abundance of providers for every kind of service. As a parent, you become adept at navigating these waters; knowing when a provider is high quality, advocating for your child in school, and finding social and leisure activities for them to participate in. They grow and learn, with an IEP in school and private services at home. But what happens when school ends?
What do adult services look like for those with autism?
At age 21, learners age out of the special education system. This can leave many parents scrambling to figure out what to do next. Service options seem to disappear, and suddenly your child is home all day every day. On top of that, you now have a full fledged adult in your home! There are job placements to think of, social engagement with peers, and even dating!
Parenting adults with autism can be desperately new territory. Most turn to the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). This is a wonderful program run by the state that does not create any out of pocket costs for families. Through DDD, adults can receive pre-vocational skill training, job coaching, community skills, and more. Many may also qualify for day programs, bringing back a sense of routine and consistency that may have been absent after leaving school. These services can be lifesavers, but they have their limitations. Families must choose their own Support Coordinator, and their choice can end up making things easy or difficult. Budgets can also be limited, forcing families to pick and choose which services are most important.
Adults can also receive ABA services if they have private insurance coverage. This can be a great opportunity to keep routines consistent in your home. BCBAs can work on a wider range of skills, including more social skills like dating, using public transportation, and teaching important safety skills around strangers and in public.
How can I continue parenting my adult child?
Needless to say, parenting is hard! Parenting adults with autism is hard! So what do you do? Remember what flight attendants say on any flight, “if the oxygen masks deploy, put on your own mask before helping your neighbor.” You cannot be there for your child if you are burnt out. Self care is an important first step. Identify when you are feeling overwhelmed and accept that it’s OK to feel that way. Try working small self care rituals into your routine; take a 10 minute walk, read a chapter of a book, maybe just have a piece of chocolate! Take that moment to reset. Be mindful of your thoughts, acknowledge them, and then release them. When you take the time to take care of yourself, you are better equipped to be there for your family.
Another great thing to do is join a support group! Finding and building a sense of community is vital for those who may feel isolated or alone in their problems. Support groups allow you to share challenges without judgment, and celebrate wins with peers. Support groups often share resources, especially those that have worked well for others. Ideally, your support group will be guided by a professional who has experience in mediation, counseling, and supporting the special needs community. Having a leader helps guide the conversation and keeps things productive. Since support groups are so important, Graham Behavior Services has its own group dedicated solely to parents of adult children. Groups are virtual, so they can be attended from the convenience of your home. Register here if interested.
At the end of the day, parents are just people who are going to worry, make mistakes, and occasionally feel lost. Remember to prioritize yourself, even if it’s just for a short amount of time each day, and use the supports available to you! As always, GBS is here if you have any questions or concerns.