Independent living skills, or life skills, are important tools that are needed in order to successfully navigate the world. In the 1990’s, a surge of children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and are now approaching adulthood (VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A. & Volkmar, F. 2008). Through early diagnosis and intervention, many of these children are now able to consider moving on to living independently, pursuing post-secondary education and entering the vocational world. However, continued support and interventions may be necessary to continued success. Moving out on your own for the first time can be very daunting for anyone. There are a whole new set of skills that you will need to learn to make this transition manageable. Having the support and guidance of a coach can relieve much of the stress. Being prepared on what to expect, having a community to support you and the ability to turn to someone to resolve conflict can help to ensure greater success.
A longitudinal study examined the prevalence of young adults with ASD ever having had, and that currently have, a paid job from 21 to 25 years of age. The study analyzed the rates of full-time employment, wages earned, number of jobs held since high school, and job types. Results showed that approximately one-half (53.4%) of young adults with ASD had ever worked for pay outside the home since leaving high school, which is the lowest rate among disability groups. Further, young adults with ASD earned an average of $8.10 per hour, which is significantly lower than average wages for young adults in the comparison groups, and held jobs that clustered within fewer occupational types. Odds of ever having had a paid job were higher for those who were older, from higher-income households, and with better conversational abilities or functional skills. Findings of poorer employment outcomes for young adults with ASD suggest that this population is experiencing particular difficulty in successfully transitioning into employment (Shattuck, P.T. et al., 2012).
According to Developmental Psychology, a study showed that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a time of amplified risk for individuals with ASD (Taylor, J.L. & Mailick, M.R., 2014). The results indicated significant declines in the level of independence and engagement in vocational/educational activities over the study period, particularly for women. Greater independence in vocational activities was found for those with more independence in activities of daily living. After controlling for personal characteristics, receipt of more services was marginally related to greater improvement in vocational independence.
It is clear that those identified with ASD are at a higher risk of experiencing difficulty in independent living, job attainment and job retention. The types of supports that are linked to greater success are those that involve working closely with adults with ASD on daily living skills. In a study examining 417 adolescents with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, Duncan et al. found that approximately half of the adolescents were identified as having a daily living skills deficit (Duncan, A.W. & Bishop, S.L., 2013). Autism symptomatology, intelligence quotient, maternal education, age, and sex accounted for only 10% of the variance in predicting a daily living skills deficit. Identifying factors associated with better or worse daily living skills may help shed light on the variability in adult outcome in individuals with autism spectrum disorder with average intelligence.
According to the Autism Research Institute, Temple Grandin, a woman who struggled with ASD, identified key skills to successful independent living, employment and a good social life for individuals diagnosed with Autism and Asperger’s. She expressed the importance of managing tantrums or outbursts caused by sensory overload and controlling aggression and anger. To build on social relationships, it is important to learn manners, have adequate grooming, learn to turn take and share. Working with others, like coaches or mentors, can help to develop good work skills. Socializing is important, and doing so through shared interests, trying new things and knowing the difference between social relatedness and learning social skills are helpful.
Through working extensively with professionals in the field as well as guidance from individuals with ASD and their families, New Frontiers in Learning (NFiL) has identified 3 main areas of development that can improve successful outcomes in transitioning into independent living. With the individualized support of a coach, it is highly likely that a positive and smooth transition can be possible.
1) Daily Living Skills
Assistance with roommate matching as applicable to the individual can be essential and includes connecting potential roommate candidates and facilitating introductory meetings. Coaches can guide in the establishment of individualized goals focused around executive functioning and independence offering availability for individuals via phone and email communication. Support in essential daily skills can include: Scheduling and follow through of weekly responsibilities and standing appointments, making and following through with other appointments (i.e., doctor), budgeting and bill paying, cleaning and meal preparation, navigating interpersonal/roommate relationships, assistance in planning, organizing, and scheduling individual or small group social/recreational activities, and hygiene and self-care.
2) Social Community Supports
Assistance with social planning meetings in order to coordinate weekly social events can be beneficial as well. Small group supports can focus on developing and utilizing the executive functioning skills necessary to initiate, plan, and implement social activities, as well as teamwork, delegation of responsibilities, respect for another’s home, community development, etc. Coaches can assist in organizing social events with agendas that support skills like time management, interpersonal skills, budgeting, and teamwork.
3) Job Coaching/Management
Coaches can have individual sessions and small group seminars that focus on the skill development necessary to find and sustain meaningful employment. Having a liaison between employers and individuals can be useful in initiating this process. Specific job coaching skills can focus on cover letter and resume building and revising, interview preparation and follow-up for internships and jobs, identification of employment and volunteer opportunities, job readiness skill development, job etiquette and navigating the social piece of working, and employment transition and retention.
Sheila Simchon-Steinhof, MS, is a Learning Specialist, and Samantha Feinman, MSEd, is Director at New Frontiers in Learning. For more information, please email Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.nfil.net.
Duncan, A.W. & Bishop, S.L. (2013) Understanding the gap between cognitive abilities and daily living skills in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders with average intelligence. Autism.
Grandin, T. (1996) Keys to Successful Independent Living, Employment and a Good Social Life for Individuals with Autism and Asperger’s. Autism Research Institute.
Howard County Public School System Office of Special Education. (2014) Transition Planning: Students with Developmental Disabilities. Ellicott City, MD.
Roux, A.M., Shattuck, P.T., Cooper, B.P., Anderson, K.A., Wagner, M. & Narendorf, SC. (2013) Postsecondary employment experiences among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. J Am Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry; 52 (9):931-9.
Shattuck, P.T., Narendorf, S.C, Cooper, B., Sterzing, P.R., Wagner, M. & Taylor J.L. (2012) Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics; 129 (6):1042-9.
Taylor, J.L. & Mailick, M.R. (2014) A longitudinal examination of 10-year change in vocational and educational activities for adults with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology; 50 (3):699-708.
VanBergeijk, E., Klin, A. & Volkmar, F. (2008) Supporting More Able Students on the Autism Spectrum. Autism Developmental Disorder; 38:1359–1370.