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10 Things To Know Before You Leave Home

 This week, Dana Reinecke, PhD, BCBA-D gives us ten important things to keep in mind if you are helping a young person transition to living on their own.

The ultimate goal for any young adult is to leave home and live an independent life. For individuals with autism, independence may be more difficult to achieve, due to the impact of the disability on most areas of functioning. Regardless of disability, however, it’s important to aim for independence across as many areas as possible, because supports and services change and are often reduced at the time of transition to adulthood (Friedman, Warfield, & Parish, 2013). Most research currently suggests that long-term outcomes are better for those individuals who were diagnosed more recently, possibly due to earlier and more effective interventions (Billstedt, Gillberg, & Gillberg, 2005). This finding should encourage more effort than ever to facilitate independence, because it shows that it is possible, and indeed more likely, with good and early intervention.
What skills are important for transitioning to a more independent adult life? Here are 10 suggestions, and the reasons why.

First, the obvious:

10. Food, eating, and meals
Clearly, we all need to eat to survive, and we need to eat at least a relatively healthy diet most of the time to avoid health issues in the future. Knowing how to make a PB&J sandwich isn’t enough, though – we need to be able to plan meals, shop for the food that we need, have it available when we need it, and make and consume food on a reasonable and healthy schedule.

9. Laundry
Social convention requires neat and clean clothing in most situations (unless you’re at the end of an intense exercise session, or maybe cleaning out an attic). Knowing how to use the washer and dryer aren’t enough. We also need to be able to anticipate when we need to do laundry so that we don’t run out of clean clothes, and we should be able to fold and put clothing away so that it stays neat and presentable. Being able to iron clothing is a good bonus skill.

8. Money management
Being independent means being in charge of your money. Money skills include not just counting, adding, and subtracting, but making change, figuring out tips, and managing at least a simple budget. Other important money skills are using an ATM, writing checks, paying bills on time, and using (and paying off!) a credit card.

7. Cleaning up
A neat, clean home is socially appropriate and also better for one’s health. In addition to knowing how to use a vacuum, how to dust, wash dishes, empty the garbage containers, and organize storage, we should be aware of when these tasks have to be done. Safety around cleaning supplies is also a very important skill.

6. Transportation
Getting to the places that we want and need to go to is an important life skill for independence. For some, this may involve driving, which also includes managing and paying for a car, maintenance of the car, and insurance. For some, public transportation is an option, which involves safety skills as well as knowing the procedures of how to pay, access schedules, and so on. Transportation for people with disabilities is also available in many areas, and requires knowledge of how to access and other procedures.

5. Schedule management
Without schedule management skills, we would miss most of our appointments and commitments, and have difficulty completing projects or meeting our goals. There are many different ways that schedules can be managed, including paper calendars and to-do lists, apps for scheduling and reminders, and timers, alarm clocks, and digital assistants. We need to know what type of schedule management is needed in any given situation, how to access or create systems, and how to use systems over time.

Perhaps less obvious, but just as important:

4. Doctors and dentists
Hopefully this won’t come up too often, but we all get sick now and then, and need a medical professional to help us. Just as important, we should also receive routine health care to prevent illnesses. This skill set can be very complex, and include varied levels of skills, such as finding the right professional, making and keeping and appointment, tolerating any necessary procedures, and following up on advice or prescriptions.

3. Friends
Friendships change and evolve over time, and the friendships of adulthood require different skill sets from those of childhood. Friendship in adulthood may also be complex, and involve many different layers, up to and including romantic relationships and intimacy. The necessary skills for friendships include some very concrete skills like making phone calls, texting, and reciprocating invitations. Less concrete, but still important, skills include tolerating different viewpoints, expressing interest and concern about others, and negotiating plans.

2. Leisure time
Anyone who doesn’t have something enjoyable to do when the demands of everyday life are lifted, such as at the end of a work day, or on a weekend, or even on a family vacation, may wind up engaging in less than acceptable ways of keeping busy. Having age-appropriate, socially-acceptable leisure skills can go a long way towards keeping us out of trouble. Although leisure skills might seem less important to focus teaching resources on than some of the other skill areas here, it can’t be stressed enough that everyone needs something enjoyable to do and to look forward to doing, to be safe, productive, and happy.

1. Getting help
Finally, we all need the crucial skill of being able to get help when we need it. This involves identifying when help is needed, what type of help is needed, how to get it, and then seeking it out. There are multiple opportunities in everyone’s day to seek help – whether by doing an internet search to get information, calling a professional or friend for advice, or asking for assistance in a store or other public place. Having the ability to get help as a core skill can also help to make up for any deficits in the other areas needed for independence.

This is by far not an exhaustive list of areas to address for independence when planning on leaving home, but all of these areas are critical and should be considered well before they are needed. A balanced educational program will hopefully prioritize each of these areas and ensure that functioning is as independent as possible, for a successful outcome!


About The Author

Dana Reinecke is a doctoral level Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) and a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst (LBA). Dana is a Core Faculty member and Associate Chair in the Applied Behavior Analysis department at Capella University. She is also co-owner of SupervisorABA, an online platform for BACB supervision curriculum and documentation. Dana provides training and consultation to school districts, private schools, agencies, and families for individuals with disabilities. She has presented original research and workshops on the treatment of autism and applications of ABA at regional, national, and international conferences. She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals, written chapters in published books, and co-edited books on ABA and autism. Current areas of research include use of technology to support students with and without disabilities and online teaching strategies for effective college and graduate education. Dana is actively involved in the New York State Association for Behavior Analysis (NYSABA), and is currently serving as Past President (2019-2020).