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Promoting Independence in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Heartland AEA Learning Curve blog

Posted on 06/26/2017 at 12:00 AM by Julie McCarty

When raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder or another developmental disability, it can be challenging to find the balance between providing appropriate supports and promoting independence. Although all parents struggle to decide when to start letting their children have more autonomy in their lives, parents of children with special needs often have additional variables to consider.

Long Term Goals

The first step in promoting independence is to determine the end goal. Consider what you would like the future to look like for your child. What does “independence” mean? Though it might be difficult to think about this now, especially if your child is still young, having some idea of your ultimate goals will help determine what prerequisite skills are necessary and where teaching should be focused.

Individual Characteristics

In addition to goals set by parents, teachers and others, it is also important to consider the child’s own individual characteristics when planning for independence. Allowing children and adults to pursue vocations, leisure activities, and social relationships that capitalize on their strengths, interests and preferences can have a positive influence on happiness and quality of life.

Teaching New Skills

Once there are some goals in mind, it is important to determine the skills that will be necessary to achieve the goal. For example, if the goal is for the child to be able to manage their own schedule, they need to be able to do things like carry their schedule with them, attend to the schedule to determine the next activity, transition from one place to another, and recognize when activities are finished. Each of these prerequisite skills may need to be taught separately.

Working Together

Although formal transition planning is not part of the IEP process until age 14 in Iowa, teams should be thinking about a child’s post-graduation independence prior to this time. When writing IEP goals or discussing services for a student, one question to ask may be, “how will this help the student work toward long term independence?” By engaging in collaborative conversations between school, home and community services, everyone can work toward the goal of helping the child be as independent as possible.

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