By Catherine Falleo, M.S.Ed., SAS, SDA, and Anya K. Silver, M.A., BCBA
For typical developing children, the process of reaching independence in adulthood seems to come naturally. However, this is not so for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As children with an ASD develop and grow into adults with an ASD, the idea of college or job training, a career, and living on their own comes with an overabundance of uncertainty. For many individuals with an ASD, they do acquire and demonstrate a wide range of skills, but often during transitioning to adulthood, when levels of support begin to fade and independent use of these skills is expected, generalization of skills becomes challenging. Independent functioning may be difficult for adults with an ASD due to the core deficits of the disability.
Adults with an ASD, in order to achieve independence, should develop the necessary skills and supports to be advocates of their own lives and to be free to make things happen for themselves without an inappropriate amount of assistance from others. Achieving this requires a strong adaptive behavior repertoire. These are the daily living skills that most typical individuals seem to learn naturally, but must be systematically taught to many individuals with an ASD. The term adaptive behavior refers to the skills or abilities that people need to function independently at home and in the community and includes everything from interacting and communicating with other people to shopping, budgeting, cleaning, eating, dressing and grooming, following directions, completing tasks, getting to work on time, reading, computation, being responsible for oneself, and becoming financially independent. Reaching true independence for adults with an ASD means developing meaningful friendships, being competitively employed, and living independently.
QSAC has four Day Habilitation (DH) Programs and three Day Habilitation (DH) WOW (Without Walls) Programs. Developing meaningful friendships for our consumers is an essential aspect across all of our programs. Our goal is to foster friendships among the consumers we serve as well as their ability to develop new friendships in their communities.
We have assisted our consumers in developing several social groups based on their common interests, passions, hobbies, and experiences. We facilitate a monthly Gamers Club where consumers across all of our DH programs who have shown an interest in gaming come together to share games while also playing games and comparing strategies together. The supervisors of the program work collaboratively with the staff and consumers in developing the monthly Gamers Club agenda so to ensure that it incorporates important social, communication, and adaptive skills throughout the event.
Another development has been the Spa/Wellness Club for our female consumers across programs who have shown an interest in the area of beauty, specifically with regards to hair, nails, makeup and fashion. Some consumers are interested in learning how to apply makeup while others specifically want to create their own fashion designs. The supervisors of the program work collaboratively with the team to incorporate into the Spa/Wellness Club agenda the opportunity to work on health awareness, specifically exercise and nutrition.
Additionally, due to our large number of comic book enthusiasts and those interested in anime, a Comic Book Club was developed. The supervisors of the program worked collaboratively with the staff and consumers to incorporate within the monthly agenda topics such as character discussions, character drawings, and comprehension of material read. In addition to our social clubs, our consumers participate in talent shows where they get to showcase their wonderful abilities from singing to dancing to stand up comedy, which offers the opportunity for our consumers to cheer on their friends, and for some, learn to be supportive of others.
In addition to developing meaningful friendships we are also committed to providing opportunities for our consumers to prepare for work environments and become competitively employed. For many of our consumers, we are providing formal curriculum programming to prepare them for these environments. Some of the program goals our staff are assisting our consumers with are within the areas of vocational tasks, schedule following, clerical skills, computer data entry, appropriate social behavior in the community, problem solving, communication skills, behavioral self-monitoring skills, self-care skills, budgeting, completing work applications, travel skills, and cleaning. Four days per week our consumers have the opportunity to generalize these skills to a vocational setting in the community. Some of our volunteer training sites include but are not limited to clothing stores, shoe stores, furniture stores, pharmacy/drug stores, preschools, colleges/universities, pet stores, senior centers, supermarkets, churches/community centers, non-profit organizations, book stores, food carts, and preparing food/deliveries and office/clerical environments. We have the opportunity to observe our consumers in these settings and further develop and enhance their skills by addressing any areas that require further development and practice by providing on the job support, discussing areas of skill development with the consumer, their family, and team of professionals, so that goals can be modified and future goals developed.
Lastly our adult programs are committed to further developing the skills of our consumers to be able to live independently. We have introduced The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS)TM by James W. Partington and Michael M. Mueller to our program. The AFLS is an assessment tool, curriculum guide, and skills tracking system. It provides information regarding a learner’s skill set and provides a curriculum guide that can serve as a basis for developing learning objectives. We use the AFLS with our consumers at DH to assess skill levels and develop functional, practical, and essential skills of everyday life. The domains covered within this guide are basic living skills, home skills, community participation skills, and school skills. The types of goals our staff have generated for our consumers to strengthen living independently include but are not limited to: dressing, toileting, grooming, bathing, health, safety and first aid, preparing meals, leisure, cooking, learning to physically navigate safely around sidewalks and streets, safety signs, strangers/people encountered while walking or while being transported in the community, basic mobility, shopping, money management, phone use, time, social awareness, and manners.
Independent functioning may be difficult for adults with an ASD due to the core deficits of the disability, however, reducing their dependence on assistance will lead to greater independent functioning and greater levels of social acceptance within the community.
About the Authors: Catherine Falleo M.S.Ed., SAS, SDA, serves as the Director of Clinical Services for QSAC’s Day Habilitation Programs; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anya K. Silver, MA, BCBA, serves as the Assistant Clinical Director for QSAC’s Day Habilitation Programs; she can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in QSAC’s print newsletter for Spring 2014.