Increased attention has been recently given to the needs of individuals with disabilities who are transitioning from high school, particularly those individuals with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders because of their unique and specific needs. Many individuals with High-Functioning ASDs encounter challenges post high school in areas including communication, socialization, and daily living skills. Although these individuals may participate in mainstream education and are often academically successful in high school, many are unable to perform basic everyday tasks including preparing a simple meal or folding laundry. Tremendous barriers to independence may be encountered by these individuals if they don’t acquire age appropriate life skills when transitioning from high school.
Individuals with ASDs typically need, but are often not given, specific instruction to master daily living skills that are required for independent living. These skills include household cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes, and preparing a simple meal. Due of deficits in being able to independently complete daily living tasks, many individuals with High-Functioning ASDs have limitations in adulthood. Increasing adaptive independence, particularly in the area of home living skills for young adults with High-Functioning ASDs, is important because learning these skills can enhance their independence at home, increase their ability to obtain paid employment, allow them to participate in leisure activities and increase the likelihood of their being able to live more independently as an adult.
It is important to recognize the need for daily living skill building for individuals early in the teen years. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) data show that only 1 in 8 youth with a disability live independently 2 years after leaving high school. However, students have limited amount of time in school to learn and master all of the academic skills being taught, leaving little time for functional activities. Throughout secondary education, the amount of time dedicated to each student that will focus on academics, social skills and functional skills should be specific, meaningful and focus on planned outcomes that will directly improve adult functioning. Through personal experience in working within the school system, I have encountered many parents of children with ASDs who have stated that they want their children to learn skills that will allow them to live as independently as possible as an adult. In order to increase independence for students with ASDs, appropriate functional daily living educational goals should be created and addressed as needed to help promote happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults on the spectrum. Research has shown that an increased level of independence in daily living skills produces better outcomes in adulthood. For example, higher scores on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VBAS), a measure of overall independent life skills functioning, are closely related to better social and independent living for individuals with autism who have average cognitive abilities (Farley, McMahon, Fombonne, Jenson, Miller, & Gardner 2009). Additional evidence further indicates that teaching daily living skills to teens and young adults with high-functioning ASDs has the potential to improve functioning long term, as research suggests that the discrepancy between intellectual ability and independent daily living skills functioning increases with age (Klin, Saulnier, Sparrow, Cicchetti, Volkmar, & Lord, 2007).
There are a variety teaching approaches that have been successful in teaching daily living skills to individuals on the Autism Spectrum, but behavioral teaching methodologies including the use of assistive technology, reinforcement contingencies, and corrective feedback have shown to be the most effective in improving independent daily living skills in High-Functioning young adults with ASDs (Palmen, Didden, & Lang, 2012). Many studies however fail to support the generalization and maintenance of these taught skills, as the skills are usually taught in only one environment. This means that if students learn a skill only at school, it is likely that they will be unable to perform that skill at home; practice at home is necessary for it to be generalized to that environment as well. Therefore, parent and school staff collaboration is essential for students to master daily living skills and increase independence. Collaboration with school staff allows parents access to trained professionals who can to offer suggestions and adaptations to the teaching process at home if the student is not progressing or is refusing to complete the skill. Training parents on how to implement teaching goals at home allows the skills to be taught in context and in the natural environment, leading to an increased likelihood of the skill being maintained. To increase positive outcomes for students, all daily living skills that are taught should be specific and relevant to the individual’s needs. Teaching sessions should be planned and structured, but allow some flexibility to incorporate the students’ interests or preferences into the teaching process.
Utilizing peer mentors within an educational setting can provide higher rates of success when teaching these important skills. Current research indicates that that the use of typically developing peers to teach skills to individuals with ASDs results in an increase use of the skills that were taught (Banda, Hart, Liu-Gitz, 2010). An additional benefit of using a peer mentoring intervention is that they tend to promote generalization as opposed to adult-managed interventions that are more difficult to generalize. Peer mentoring programs to support the development of adaptive skills have potential applications within high-school settings based on the graduation requirement of many high schools for students to fulfill community service hours. Participating in a peer mentoring program could meet this requirement for students interested in working with peers who have disabilities. Peer mentoring programs to teach adaptive skills are proactive in that they promote acceptance of those with ASDs in addition to providing skill development.
When a student with an ASD approaches secondary school, in addition to establishing meaningful academic goals, it is time to address students’ needs in terms of daily functioning so they are prepared for the transition post high school. Time spent addressing some of the general education curriculum, (i.e., learning the elements of the periodic table) may ultimately be time lost in gaining meaningful skills that could directly improve adult outcomes. Rather than solely looking at the general education standards, educational goals should be individualized and match plans for adulthood.
Edel is a graduate intern at the Lindner Center. She holds a Master’s Degree in School Psychology and is a certified School Psychologist. Edel is currently a student in the PsyD School-Community Psychology Program at Hofstra University. Edel has worked with children on the Autism Spectrum and their families for the past 7 years in private and public school settings and is a District Wide School Psychologist with a School District in Nassau County, NY.
The Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities understands the need to teach these important daily living skills to individuals with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders and offers course sequences in daily living, community, and leisure skills. All courses are supported by typically developing peer mentors from local high schools, and have a parent training component to ensure generalization of taught skills in the home. To inquire about these courses call the Lindner Center at (516) 686-4440.