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Developing Daily Living Skills for Those on the Spectrum

father and son with autism

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Improving the Quality of Life

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition which many people experience throughout their lives. Some children with autism make significant developmental gains with treatment, losing some, or even all of the traits and symptoms associated with autism as they age. While studies have found that some children diagnosed with autism no longer fit the criteria when assessed later in life, many retain the traits of autism as they develop into teenagers and through adulthood. Many children who lose autism-related traits as they age experience other challenges with mental health or behavioral and language development. [i] Since autism is so varied in presentation, their need for skill development and support can vary greatly. Acquiring such skills is a vital goal in order to improve one’s quality of life and meet personal, emotional, and social needs.

Developing Daily Living Skills as an Adolescent

Research into adolescents with autism has found a “slowing of improvements in internalizing behaviors and ASD symptoms following exit from high school,” which speaks to the need for more support during these critical years.[ii] However, researchers stress that “individuals with ASD make gains in [daily living skills] across childhood and into young adulthood” even though such skill acquisition typically slows down as one ages. “Daily living skills” can refer to the development of activities of daily life, often referred to as ADL’s. These can include tasks such as practicing hygiene, getting dressed, and preparing food, among other vital self-care skills performed throughout the day. Daily living skills can also include things like communication, managing time or money, and personal safety. Skills like these can prove difficult for people with more severe presentations of autism, which can have serious impacts on cognition and motor function. Treatment in these scenarios is not necessarily about an all-or-nothing approach to skill acquisition. Those with more severe presentations of autism may always require some level of assistance from others, but they can still work on important skills and attain proficiency. For instance, an adolescent who may need some level of support into adulthood can still learn how to take care of routine household chores, or follow a morning routine, including personal hygiene and meal preparation.

Autism and Life Skills

Adolescents and adults with autism face different challenges throughout their lives. Many individuals with milder presentations of autism may not have difficulty with activities of daily living, but may instead need assistance in areas like relationships and social skills, or in acquiring the knowledge, time management, and organization skills necessary for continued employment. These broader life skills may be taught differently or require a different treatment approach than others, but are vital nonetheless.

Individualized Treatment Options for Skill Building

Any skill requires practice to achieve mastery. The needs of adolescents and adults on the spectrum vary widely, so the treatment options for one person can and do differ from those of another. Individualized care tailored to one’s needs and goals is the key in such instances. Numerous forms of care exist which can be administered by a therapist, behavioral technician, parents and siblings.

Many adolescents and adults on the spectrum can benefit from Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which helps individuals of all ages identify beneficial and harmful behaviors and work towards skill progression across a variety of emotional, social, and cognitive goals. ABA for adolescents and adults requires a unique approach when compared to ABA for younger children, and may be tailored towards goals and skills related to socialization, self-care, work, and personal independence.[iii]          

Other forms of assistance, such as employment coaching and resources, may be invaluable for adolescents and adults with autism. Unfortunately, research shows that “the vast majority of adults on the spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed.” Authors of such studies point to little family involvement in treatment, as well as a lack of access to transitional resources and evidence-based care, as potential factors in such situations.[iv] This speaks to the need for family to be involved in treatment and communicative with care providers. As with unemployment, adolescents on the spectrum frequently struggle with issues in socialization and mental health. Social skills training and therapy for co-occurring mental health disorders can be profoundly helpful in such cases.

The severity of autism in an adolescent or adult will dictate the best treatment approach. Some on the spectrum will present more severe deficits in cognitive and communication skills compared to their peers. In such instances, treatment may consist of continued work with expert therapists and behavioral techs in areas of motor and cognitive skills, as well as language and communication skills development. Effective interventions should consider the adolescent or adult’s strengths, challenges, preferred learning methods, and healthy behavioral goals essential for daily living.

How Parents Can Help their Adolescent and Adult Children Practice Life Skills

There are many ways that parents can help their adolescents or adults with autism learn and practice life skills. This can involve cleaning or cooking together, working on visual aids, breaking down a given process into manageable steps, or having a conversation about a difficult social subject or situation that the person with autism needs assistance in understanding. It may involve developing strategies or plans for school, work, or social engagements, or making a list of triggers which can induce feelings of anxiety or emotional meltdowns. In more severe presentations of autism, parents may help their children via daily work on specific motor, cognitive, or communication skills, reinforcing work done in therapeutic contexts and assisting their child’s learning at home.

Regardless of your adolescent or adult’s presentation of autism, being attentive to their unique social, emotional, and personal needs is the key to devising proper treatment goals and methods. Adolescents and adults on the spectrum face a variety of unique challenges related to employment, relationships, and mental health, so any situation where these are applicable demands a treatment plan to address such needs.

Spectrum of Hope has been working with individuals with autism and their families for over a decade. Our dedicated Adolescent and Adult programs tailor Applied-Behavioral Analysis principles to the specific needs and goals of the individual and their family to provide a personalized treatment plan. If you or a loved one with autism require additional help in overcoming common developmental barriers and challenges presented by autism, please call us today at (281) 204-8122.

[i] https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/children-outgrow-autism-label-end-diagnoses/

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4912002/

[iii] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40474-016-0070-1

[iv] https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10879-010-9160-2

If you have questions about autism services for a child, teen or adult, call now (281) 894-1423. You can also check your insurance benefits and start an admission by clicking the button to the right. We're here for you.

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