How ABA Therapy Helps Young Adults Transition to Independence
Parents who have children on the autism spectrum may receive services for their children through the school district, but those services tend to be somewhat limited. Additionally, services provided by a school district may be denied if the school feels that a child doesn’t really need them. This often leaves parents with autistic children in a lurch.
Add to the fact that many children age out of public school and supports to help them transition are almost nil and you have quite a complicated situation. What do you do to help a teen with autism transition into adulthood? Most parents try to teach their children how to cook, clean, shop, budget, etc., but what if a parent doesn’t know how or where to start or a teen with autism is non-verbal? That is essentially where ABA therapy comes in, and hopefully, you can secure these services years before your child is beginning that transition process.
Teens have a hard enough time learning how to communicate with others. Throw autism into the mix, and these teens are completely lost. They may become the kids nobody wants to sit with at lunch, or the kids that are attracted to other teens romantically but often inadvertently say or do something that makes non-ASD peers very uncomfortable. Schools do not do a lot to help these teenagers learn how to interact with their peers, which ends up stunting their ability to interact with other adults once these teens are adults themselves.
ABA therapy focuses on each teenager’s individual communication strengths and weaknesses. If he/she is nonverbal but seems to understand spoken speech, an ABA therapy looks at alternative means of helping this teen communicate. Special apps on tablets or old-fashioned communication boards using pictures and velcro or even sign language help the non-verbal teens find their “voices.”
Teens that are verbal take a slightly different route during ABA therapy sessions. They are taught how to watch for non-verbal language, interpret it, and respond to what they see and hear. They may also be encouraged to spend more time looking at faces and interpreting facial expressions and facial cues. Practicing interactive communication skills is par for the course for the verbal teen with ASD too. Eventually, things like practicing for a job interview, writing a resume, being able to talk about oneself without delving into one hyper-focused special interest, etc., are also taught.
Time Management and Making Good Choices
Children, teens, and adults with ASD have many difficulties with time management and making choices. They are almost always overwhelmed with faced with an important decision. It is akin to a neurotypical person walking into an ice cream shop that has thirty-one flavors and only being able to choose a single scoop of one flavor. That is what it is like every moment of every day for a person on the spectrum. They bounce from decision to decision, frequently becoming so overwhelmed with one decision that they cannot make any other decisions and become “stuck”.
When it comes to managing their time, that is even more difficult, especially if the child, teen, or adult already gets “stuck” at an earlier point in the day and can’t stop thinking about it. They lose any ability to plan and stick to a plan. As such, they may be viewed as lazy or as procrastinators, when in fact the problem has many more layers to it.
When your teen receives and participates in targeted ABA therapy activities, he/she learns how to make good decisions without getting stuck and without worrying about the consequences. He/she learns to formulate a daily plan that helps him/her feel at ease about his/her day and to follow the plan as much as possible. ABA will also help him/her learn to be flexible and not meltdown if and when the plan goes a little sideways. These are all skills and coping tools that will help your teen with ASD become a more successful adult.
Another adult skill is the ability to receive instruction and follow instructions. Regardless of the type of employment or the job, everyone has to learn to listen for and follow instructions to complete tasks. Those with ASD find this difficult because they are distracted, may not have the focus, and/or may have a comorbid diagnosis of ADHD.
Special activities in ABA therapy require kids and teens on the spectrum to listen for directions, follow the directions, and be rewarded for completing tasks as instructed. Staying focused as they complete tasks increases the likelihood that they are rewarded with praise or some small treat. As listening and following instructions become better and better, the tasks become longer and require even greater attention to detail. The final test is to reverse-engineer tasks to see if your teen/child is able to keep up with the challenges and still succeed.
Being a Team Player
A lot of people with autism tend to be loners, preferring to work on projects and tasks independently of others. However, a lot of the adult workforce requires that people be “team players.” This is a very difficult skill for teens with ASD to learn, given their shortcomings in many social skills areas.
When a therapist uses ABA therapy to teach team member skills, it involves getting other family members into the activity presented. Everyone, including the teen, is required to contribute to the activity as a practice to get the teen used to working with a team. If the teen is verbal, then he/she can also help formulate a group plan for an activity that delegates and relegates tasks to others on the team and help determine who or what is going to happen next. If and when it is possible, your teen will gradually increase in skills to the point where he/she is “leader” of the team activity and/or aids in the determination of his/her treatment plan.
How the Above Skills Help With Independence
Being able to communicate, work together with others, identify and make choices, accept consequences of choices, etc., are all signs of maturity in teens that have transitioned into adulthood. The premise of in-home ABA therapy for transitioning into adulthood is to start years before your teen officially becomes an adult so that he/she is able to smoothly transition into the adult world and not need constant contact with you to make it.
While there are some teens that may need to move into group homes first (or remain in a group home because it isn’t safe to be completely independent), the ABA therapy still helps them achieve the highest level of independence possible. They will be able to do much more for themselves than you might have originally thought. The sooner you are able to find a therapist to help your teenager using ABA therapy the better.