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Independent Living: Are You Ready?
As young adults finish high school, perhaps going to college or getting a job, at some point they may choose to take on the additional responsibility of living "on their own." Our society generally regards this as developmentally appropriate (though some families choose to live together in multi-generational home settings).
The transition to living away from mom and dad usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 30. It may happen when a young adult goes to college or gets a job too far away from where the parents live to commute, or it may happen simply because the young adult and/or the young adult's family believes it is time for more independence.
Living away from mom and dad may sound ideal. No one nagging you to do your chores, no arguing over the computer or the TV. But it also means that you will need to take responsibility for many of the daily supports your parents provided.
Let's think of the "new" skills a young person needs to live on their own:
- Managing money: paying the bills (rent, utilities, food, etc.), budgeting for expenses, using an ATM, timely depositing paychecks and benefits checks;
- Sleeping: determining when to go to bed, when to wake up so as not to be late for work or school;
- Cooking and eating: purchasing food, preparing food items, ordering take-out;
- Staying healthy: taking medications, maintaining good hygiene, maintaining a balanced diet, exercising, sleeping, etc.;
- Taking care of household chores: cleaning the house, cleaning, folding, and putting away the laundry, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, etc.;
- Getting places: arranging for transportation to school, work, doctor's appointments, social events, etc.;
- Managing free time;
- Practicing good social skills: getting along with neighbors, co-workers, grocery store clerks, etc.;
- Staying safe: locking doors, turning off the burners/oven, having and knowing how to use a fire extinguisher, replacing batteries in smoke detectors, etc.
All of this is necessary for independent living.
Many young adults, not just young adults on the autism spectrum, need to be taught specific life skills before they are ready to live on their own. If you had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) you may have learned many of these skills at school. Your parents may have also helped you learn daily living skills by assigning you chores and helping you manage a bank account. Regardless of how much preparation you have had, you, like all people (whether autistic or not), will find that there are experiences that you are unprepared for. When confronted with something new, it is important to be able to ask for help or advice on how to proceed.
Talk with your family, therapists, and trusted friends if you think you are ready for independent living. If you determine that you are not quite ready, come up with a plan to help you learn new skills and brainstorm ideas that will allow you more independence while ensuring that you are getting the supports you need.