By Miyah R. Sundermeyer
As more and more information about autism becomes up-to-date, larger numbers of adults on the autism spectrum are learning to live independently. Some collaborate with their parents or family members to purchase a condominium, while others seek out roommate situations where other people have autism or similar types of issues, all the while others live in apartments with a support system who checks in with them weekly. Besides living in their own place, numerous individuals are involved in their communities by attending places of worship, holding down careers, various jobs at the same time, some are self-employed. Although there are lots of success stories to count for, there is a multitude of steps that one with an autism spectrum disorder must take in order to hold a success at being independent.
In the time that it takes for a neurotypical to develop, mature and pick up on the basics for becoming independent, it is a very different story for someone who is on the spectrum. Whereas an NT picks up on basics such as doing chores, paying bills on time and managing a budget, one on the autism spectrum will often struggle to juggle such basic tasks and live independently, one of the first steps to becoming independent comes by directing each individual. Being that I live with mild autism myself while being independent I did a bit of research on better ways that one may achieve such a lifestyle. Among my research, I found timely advice by Dr. Temple Grandin and her opinion on how independence can be achieved.
(Pictured to the right: Dr. Temple Grandin, Matthew Reardon Evening keynote)
As reported by Grandin herself, the learning of independence begins at before the age of adolescence in order to help a parent or guardian let go of their child. As a matter of fact, she defined 12 steps that one can take in order to become independent. While some of her views may sound silly, I really felt that each was just as important as an element is to a molecule.
- The first step is that one needs to determine the difference between a meltdown from a tantrum so that bad behavior can be corrected while meltdowns need to be accommodated as sensory plays a role in autism.
2. The second step involved learning manners which I consider to be legitimate being that independence incorporates being out in public or dealing with the community. Considering that one will not only deal with meltdowns in a public setting but also become easily overloaded and overwhelmed as well. That individual is going to need to practice stating, “Excuse me, I am going to need a moment.” and want some downtime
3. The third step declared that practicing good grooming habits is a must as it will help one on the spectrum learn to present themselves in future critical situations such as getting and maintaining a job. As I heard her mention on June 19, 2013, at one of her talks and in her book “The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships,” she mentioned that one on the spectrum cannot go around dressed like a “Dirty slob.”
4. The fourth step entails turn taking in which she states that she learned how to share a sled and play games with her sisters. From my perspective, I feel that turn taking is good practice for one of the spectrum learning how to share chores, cook meals and divide the bills among roommates.
5. The fifth step brings about knowing the differences between the rules at home and the rules at school
6. The sixth step adds that developing areas of strength such as learning that one is good at math, writing, art, computer program and other such areas were critical
7. The second step is to expand areas based on those strengths that could turn into careers. In my case, I discovered that I have a strong knack for math and my colleagues are currently encouraged to pursue a career in statistics and research while writing these blogs which are scholarly and practical application based.
8. The eighth step – Grandin suggested that developing current areas of strength would be to develop new work skills. In her case, on Temple stated that her mother got her a sewing job at the age of 13 which earned her areas of strength in embroidery.
9. The ninth area advised that spectrum continues to try new things in order to help a child grow as well as get one out of their own comfort zone.
10. The 10th step that was advised by Dr. Grandin was on anger management. She felt that one who learns to switch from anger to crying would prevent one on the spectrum from getting a criminal record and destroy their chance of getting a great career later on. In many of her talks and books, Temple explained that she got into a fist fight while in boarding school and lost horse back riding priviledges for a week. As a result, she learned to switch from anger to crying.
11. The 11th step hinted that limiting television and movies and doing other things such as helping with chores around the house were a key to better success
12. Last but not least, the final step entailed learning how to shop solo by giving a child a grocery list, for example. When I was 14, I needed personal hygiene items so my mother took me to a local grocery store and gave me money to shop while asking me to pick up butter as she waited in the car outside.
None the less, Temple Grandin was not the only source of information on in order to find friendly resources for one on the spectum to maintain independence. The next supportive source was a young adult male named Arman Khodeai who was interviewed by Alex Plank who’s the founder on wrong. His steps seemed to have a more modern set of 9 steps that any adolescent and adult would be able to grasp before and even during the time that one lives on his own. They include:
- Build a support system- example friends, neighbors, family, people at work
- Focus on weakness and turn them into strengths
- Learn to cook
- Balance finances
- Become engaged with the community
- Find ways to become assertive
- Figure out which transportation suits your needs
- Eat and live healthy
- Follow your dreams and look through the wanted adds
Last but not least, their ideas are compared and contrasted with my own as I too hold a series of steps that one on the spectrum can learn to master. While I would like post them all, I will name only a few. If you want more information, you may email me about sending a list of ideas.
- Have a set of networks ready for child can have employment in place
- Encourage sleep overs during childhood where child sleeps away from home
- Parents and guardians need to teach child and adolescent how to run vacuums, lawn mowers, carpet cleaners
- Structured schedule with chores and take turns with siblings on them- e.g- One does dishes while the other mows lawn one month
- Pick the right roommates- meet in restaurant and find values and morals in common
- Encourage meal planning and meal preparation
- Learn to select the right roommates- meet in public place such as coffee shop and learn interview what they are seeking
In closing, a one on the spectrum who wants independence should know that the grass is not some green on the other side of the fence. If you would like to hear more about my story as a young adult facing my first situation, please be sure to check out my vlog “The Grass is not so Green on the Otherside of the Fence.”
Grandin, T. (2013, June 19). An Evening with Temple Grandin. Speech presented in Decatur GA, Decatur First Baptist Church.
Grandin, T. (n.d.). Keys to Successful Independent Living, Employment and a Good Social Life for Individuals with Autism and Asperger’s – See more at: https://www.autism.com/grandin_independence#sthash.vHHhU1Nr.dpuf. Retrieved 2017, from https://www.autism.com
Grandin T. (1996). Thinking In Pictures, Vintage Press, New York. Updated and expanded in 2006
Grandin T. and Barron T. (2005). Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, Future Horizons, Arlington, Texas .
Kohdaei, A. and Plank, A. (2012.) .10 Steps to Become Independent: Learning the Basics of Essential Life Skills « 10 Steps to Become Independent: Learning the
Basics of Essential Life Skills – Wrong Planet Wrong Planet. http://wrongplanet.net/10-steps-to-become-independent-learning-the-basics-of-essential-life-skills/./