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Autism Life Skills: 10 Essential Abilities for Children with ASD (page 3)

By — Autism Society
Updated on May 5, 2014

Self-Regulation

Respondents believed this is a necessary skill for taking part in community life. Many children on the spectrum suffer from sensory overload. It can also be difficult for them to understand what they are feeling and how to control their emotional response. Dena Gassner, MSW, who was diagnosed as an adult, believes it is necessary for children to be able to identify their “triggers” and that parents and educators should affirm to the child that whatever he or she is feeling is important. Even if it does not make sense to the adult, whatever the child is feeling is true for him or her. Various methods can be used to help them become more self-aware over time, to recognize when they are approaching sensory or emotional overload and to communicate the need for a break. As they get older, giving them more responsibility for scheduling their own breaks and choosing their own appropriate coping strategy can be very empowering.

Independence

Independence is an important goal, but may take longer than expected. Zosia Zaks told me that parents of children with autism need to realize and accept that they will be parenting for a lot longer than parents of neurotypical children. She has a point, but I never thought I’d still be discussing certain self-care issues when my son was old enough to vote. For many that I interviewed, some skill acquisition came later in life, and many are still improving themselves and their essential skills. Th is is nice to know because so often, as parents and educators, we hear about the “windows of opportunity” in terms of age and can become discouraged by our own inner cynics and other well-meaning doubters (“If they haven’t learned by now….”).

When discussing self-sufficiency, many stated that the two greatest challenges were executive functioning (being able to get and stay organized) and sensory processing. Doing chores and establishing routines helped some as children to learn organizational skills and responsibility—two essential foundations for self-sufficiency.

Social Relationships

Relationships are important to all human beings, but are difficult for many on the spectrum. Th e adults I communicated with make it clear they enjoy having relationships, including those who are mostly non-verbal, such as Sue Rubin and D.J. Savarese (who wrote the last chapter of Reasonable People). However, understanding the concept of different types of relationships and knowing the appropriate behaviors and conversations expected does not come naturally, and can be magnified for those who are non-verbal.

Many adults, such as Dena Gassner and Zosia Zaks, discussed the importance of teaching children interdependence skills—how to ask for help, how to approach a store clerk, how to network as they get older. For them, interdependence did not come as easily as it does for neurotypicals. Yet, asking people for assistance—what aisle the cookies are located in, the name of a plumber when your sink is stopped up, letting people know you are looking for a job or apartment—is how social and community life functions.

Self-Advocacy

Effective self-advocacy entails a certain amount of disclosure. All of the adults I spoke with believed that children should be told about their diagnosis, and this should be done in a positive manner. Michael John Carley, who was diagnosed following the diagnosis of his son, says he always felt diff erent than others. Getting a diagnosis was liberating because then he knew why he felt different. On the topic of disclosure to others, some believe in full disclosure to all, while others choose to disclose only the area of difficulty.

Like many her age, Kassiane Alexandra Sibley, who wrote a chapter of the book Ask and Tell, was improperly diagnosed before discovering at age 18 that she had an autism spectrum disorder. She had to learn self-advocacy skills the hard way. Like many I spoke with, Kassiane believes that teaching children when they are young to speak up for themselves is the most important gift we can give them.

Earning A Living

This is an issue of major concern for many on the spectrum. Some of the adults I spoke with struggled for years before finding an area in which they could work. The life skills discussed earlier in this article impact tremendously on a person’s ability to find, get and keep a job. Many people on the spectrum continue to be unemployed or underemployed, which means we need to rethink our approach in how we are transitioning our youth from being students to being contributing members of society.

Temple Grandin, who co-authored the book Developing Talents, says that parents should help their children develop their natural talents and that young people need mentors to give them guidance and valuable experience. Authors John Elder Robison (Look Me in the Eye) and Daniel Tammet (Born on a Blue Day) both credit their Asperger’s for giving them the talents on which they have based their successful businesses. For those whose talents are less obvious, a look at the community they live in and the service needs that exist there can be an option for creating an opportunity to earn money. My son Jeremy and his teacher created a sandwich-delivery business and a fl ower business on his high school campus as part of his work experience. Customized employment, including self-employment, is an option that, with careful planning and implementation, can be a solution for some.

A Final Thought

In retrospect, there are diff erent choices I could have made in raising and educating Jeremy these past 19 years. However, after conversations and e-mails with many diff erent adults on the spectrum, I have concluded that there is one factor I would not have changed, the formula I used for providing a solid foundation for both of my children: Take equal parts love, acceptance and expectation, and mix well.

About the Author

Chantal Sicile-Kira is an author, autism advocate and speaker. Autism Life Skills is her third book. She is the U.S./Canada marketing director and columnist for Th e Autism File, a magazine debuting in major bookstores in September. For more information, visit www.chantalsicile-kira.com.

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