Are you facing this scenario: Your teen with autism has graduated from high school. In high school, your teen had a daily and weekly schedule. He or she had homework, chores, tutoring, sports, and friendships. After graduation, the future seems blurry. Academic assistance, therapists, social workers, and other support has vanished. There is no daily schedule to follow. There are no assignments to complete. Now your teen is loafing on your couch all day.
What are societal roles and how do they impact your teen?
Each of us occupies certain roles in society, such as parent, student, and employee. Roles are made up of routines, habits, attitudes, values, and actions. When we internalize a role, it shapes our identity, guides our behaviors, and structures our routines.
The role of a high school student involves the daily routines of getting up for school and managing a class schedule. Your teen completed homework, attended class, and met with tutors. He identified with the role of a student. During the school year, the student role structured his day, guided his behaviors, and shaped his attitude.
If your teen had a documented disability, high school presented many supports for the student role. For example, the IEP, a team of professionals, a plan, accommodations, and goals. Those supports helped your teen succeed in the student role.
How do Roles Change After High School?
Everyone occupies different societal roles, and we all have experienced role changes. For the teen with autism, the path to adulthood may be blurry. Your teen may not be able to move easily into the new role of a college student. Performance issues related to your teen’s autism diagnosis may affect employment options. The high school supports go away and are not easily replaced. Therefore, you are left with limited resources at the time when you and your teen need them the most.
After high school, your teen’s day may be unstructured. There is nothing planned on the calendar. No assignments, school activities, or meetings. Your teen will adopt an isolated role of a disabled person with a blurry future and limited opportunities. The new role will affect your teen’s behaviors, identity, and mental health. Your teen’s identity with the disabled role can lead to passivity, inability to make decisions, and lack of motivation.
How to Adopt New Roles for a Gratifying Adulthood?
New roles can be adopted through learning and mastering new skills. Every one of us can master new skills through an amazing ability called neuroplasticity.
Start with identifying your teen’s values and goals. What is his vision for the future? Does he or she want to be married, have friends, attend college, or become employed? Does your teen want to live on his own? Dreaming about the future is a good start to developing new habits and new roles.
Help your teen develop new habits. Habits are one component of a defined societal role. Implement the habits that tie into your teen's new goals and vision. If your teen wants to become employed, then start the daily habit of a morning routine. Check out our blog on developing healthy habits for more ideas.
Move your teen towards the new role. Once your teen starts to identify with the new role, he will change his behavior and attitude. This process takes time, patience, and creativity. If your teen wants to go to college, can you start small? Can he take one easy course on campus? Starting small helps your teen build the habits for the role. Work with your teen to schedule the class times. Figure out transportation to the campus. Meet with the Disability Office to learn about class accommodations. Meet the professor and the college tutors. Gradually, your teen will identify with the new role of a student. The new role will motivate your teen to participate in other activities associated with the role.
For more ideas about navigating college, check out our blog “Is Your Autistic Child College Bound?”
Does your teen want to work? If so, identify the performance barriers to employment. Does your teen have behavioral issues or lack certain skills for employment? The good news is that work habits and skills can be learned and mastered. Start small and find a supportive employer or volunteer opportunity. Consider an hour or a few hours of work in the beginning. Your teen will start to adopt the new role of an employee. He will follow the work schedule, dress for the job, and possibly master the skills for full-time employment. He will learn to advocate for himself and work with employers to implement reasonable work accommodations.
Who Can Help You and Your Teen?
Occupational therapists are the ideal professional to help you and your teen. OTs are educated in neurological development and human psychology. We understand how to help people change their future. For more information about how an OT can help your teen adopt a new role, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.