image: Lisandra Barros Mendona
My daughter is headed off to college this fall, and we couldn’t be happier. As other parents wish that childhood would linger a little longer, I find myself more than ready for her to move on to this next phase of life. Growing up isn’t easy, especially for a kid on the autism spectrum. For kids who are the “smart kids”, high school isn’t always a ball of fun, either. But this particular university brings promise of being surrounded by others who think studying isn’t something to be avoided at all costs, and being “quirky” is actually a good thing. We can’t wait for her to be around others who will accept her for who she is and challenge her to continue to grow.
This brings me to something that has slowed my blogging for almost a year now. Our Aspie is headed to college. Truth be told, this is not reality for so many folks with autism. In fact, going away to college isn’t always in the cards for so many, that speaking about it can further the gap in an already divided autism community.
image: Thomas Campbell
One piece of the puzzle seems to separate those who go to college and those who do not, as well as those who make it and those who drop or fail out. (This assuming each individual has the intellectual capacity to do well in the classroom.) This piece is called: Executive Functioning Skills.
Executive Functioning Skills (EF Skills) help us regulate our day to day life, how we manage time and space. They are what help us get up to an alarm and remember to set it again once we go to bed at night. They permit us to keep track of assignments and due dates so we don’t miss class or forget to turn in a paper. Basically, they kinda sorta do the job of “mom” when “mom” isn’t around, reminding us what to do!
image: Maxime Perron Caissy
One of the troubles with autism is, indeed, organization. This can be anything from remembering more than one task at a time to keeping track of…anything. Although a great many folks with autism do not have strong (or any) EF Skills, some do. And that, it seems, is what makes some succeed to become the so-called “Bill Gates of the World”, while other geniuses struggle to move into their own place or hold down a job – any job.
So, as moms and dads, what are some things we can do to encourage development of these skills in our kids? The first answer is obvious: consult with someone who is trained who will get to know your child and help them on the path to developing these skills. Aside from that, there are some things we can try at home. Let’s talk about five of them:
- Teach your child to pack his own lunch. As moms, packing lunch can be an area hard to let go of. After all, we often include little goodies and notes for our kid’s day. But learning to do this teaches so many things, including planning and assembling a healthy lunch, remembering ice packs, remembering to take it to school as well as unload it at the end of each day. That’s a lot of steps!
- Have your child set (and turn off) his alarm clock each day. Fess up, how many of you have turned your child’s alarm clock off for them? (Guilty, here!) No matter how long it buzzes, have them turn it off. It is also important they learn to reset it each day. This is crucial for college and work, as dad won’t be there to make sure junior is up on time, right?
- Have your child organize his school work and backpack each evening. As annoying as it may be to your child for mom to intervene here, if he is unorganized, make a point of going through his backpack with him each day after school. Doing this will help you know which areas he needs help in. Is he keeping subjects separated? Does he have a system for keeping track of homework and important papers? Help him develop one – and use it. This is not the time to scold, but a time to learn and help. And it will take time.
- Help your child learn to use a daily planner. Include anything from homework assignments to allergy shots in it, but have your child write it all down. Resist the urge to do it for him. Sure, you will likely need to walk him through it regularly, but over time, he should be able to utilize it successfully.
- Give him the freedom to fail. Learning new tasks means learning to handle failure. It is incredibly hard to watch our kids deal with failure, but it is a very important life lesson, isn’t it? When you provide your child with a new activity, be sure to let them know that it is ok if they don’t get the hang of it right away! They need to know, with certainty, you support them and will not be disappointed if they aren’t perfect.
In other words, step back a little and let your child do more and more things on his own. This can be hard for us Special Need’s parents, as our kid often has enough trouble in the day to day, but over-mothering isn’t doing him any favors, either. Establish independence early on, while being there to help as needed.
TIP: It may take years – yes years – for certain specific skills to develop, if at all. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
There is so much we can talk about and so many examples we can give when it comes to EF Skills! I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
Julie Clark is the published author of “Asperger’s in Pink”, which you can buy here, and speaks professionally about Autism. She is also the creative force behind Julie Clark Art. Julie is happily married and has a beautiful daughter. She is currently working on her second novel.0