Adulthood is tricky for family members with intellectual, physical and emotional challenges. For parents who are trying to set goals for their child’s “adult” life after high school, it can feel odd because the child may still have childlike tendencies.
But believe me, adulthood does come for them, too.
In U.S. public schools, students with disabilities can stay in the education system until age 22. Yet, I’ve known parents of such students who are surprised when graduation arrives and have no meaningful communication or concrete plan prepared for their child.
A well-rounded young adult doesn’t just happen when developmental delays are inherent; it requires working together.
Using the acronym TRANSITION, I’ll share some concepts and experiences with Miss Heidi, our beloved young adult daughter who has Down’s syndrome and autism.
T is for Talk: All transitions need communication. Start building bridges after high school by discussing it now and using age-appropriate phrases. “This grocery store could be a place where you could work.” Or, “You’re older now, and learning laundry skills will help if you move into a nice group home.” Talking prepares you, your child, and community to set physical and mental intentions.
R is for Reach: Associations with your community, networking with neighborhoods and faith-based realms, and positive programs are useful. Most young adults with limitations are often hired because employers have known the family (This was Heidi’s case).
A is for Act: School and community programs that keep an eye on the future as they work in the present are great. Encourage “community access” during the high school years. This is where a few students leave for life skills/work-training locations during a class period or two.
I’ve seen low-key settings work well, like green houses, libraries, and pet stores. Supervised students can enjoy new experiences, strengthen skills, and contribute to the good in society.
N is for Nutrition: This vital area helps insure you can keep going as parents and care-givers for the years ahead. We all let our guard down when we’re tired or busy and fall for fast food and unhealthy snacks,yet with a disabled loved one in the home, you’re always tired and busy. Eat smart.
One of the best ways to get nutrition is blending frozen fruit smoothies with yogurt, or buy a vegetable juicer. Fresh, raw juice is a powerhouse of nutrition. We did this for Heidi, and sometimes she’d only drink a little, but it was better than nothing. My husband, Rod, and I juice to create natural stamina.
S is for Schedules: One “after graduation hurdle” is too much free time. Most teenagers with special needs adore TV, movies, and video games, and some are addicted — embracing media more than reality. While the low road seems easier, take the high road leading to smoother roads ahead. Cheerfully insist your young adult get showered, shaved, and take their meds/vitamins, etc., every morning.
Wise parents create small chores and plans each day. Their child may not have a current job, but there are positive things in the community at libraries, gyms and civic centers. Staying engaged may lead to one. Volunteering within neighborhoods and churches gives life meaning.
I is for Information: With multiple papers, meetings and programs offered for your vulnerable child, consider his/her support coordinator’s perspectives as a sounding board. I’ve requested Heidi’s representative to join me in advocating stressful school meetings. She also gathered information about autism.
T is for Take Up: Some people with an accelerated central nervous system have high anxiety and physical energy, so they may pace the floor, or wander the neighborhood — sometimes getting lost or into mischief. Trampolines help Heidi. Also having a dog creates calming companionships, and walking the pet burns energy, plus teaches responsibility.
I is for Include: Include you and your spouse on your “to do” list. However, select activities that don’t overly tax your time, budget, or body. Consider yoga videos, gardening or joining the church choir. As a couple, arrange for care-providers and weekly dates, plus an overnight wedding anniversary get-away. You are the team leaders, and if you burn out or break up, the whole family is influenced forever. Some parents couldn’t keep going, and countless disabled youth are a ward of the state. The government is no substitute for family.
O is for Offer: After high school graduation the reduced pressure feels liberating, but limited social interactions creates isolation. Making time with others who have a disabled loved one similar to yours is validating to everyone (especially siblings realizing they’re not so odd). Inviting them over for a BBQ picnic or watching a favorite movie together builds mutual emotional support.
N is for Notes: Divide large goals into smaller steps. Some developmental milestones take months for some that would normally be mastered in weeks for others, so it’s easy to lose track or feel discouraged. Charts and notebooks help, pictures and rewards motivate, yet you’ll need fresh ideas periodically. I enjoy Pinterest (online).
Well, those are starters. Follow leads, build skills and don’t give up. I love this quote “Don’t cry because it’s over. Be happy you had the experience.”
Pearson is a national speaker from Utah. Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.