Transitioning a Special Needs Teen to Adulthood: A Parent’s Perspective
Being the parent of a special needs teenager is fraught with uncertainty. As the loving step-parent of a 15-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, the kinds of questions that keep my husband and me up at night range from, “Will he ever eat anything besides peanut butter sandwiches?” to “Who is going to care for him when we are gone?” It can all feel overwhelming, so it is comforting to know that there are experts (whether at school or via family support services) that can help guide us through his transition to adulthood.
Here is a good set of questions parents of special needs teens can begin to ask their support team.
How can we support our teen’s learning at home? There are so many basic life skills he will need to function outside of school and home. We know he is getting some wonderful occupational and behavioral therapy at school. He is learning daily living skills such as hygiene, money management, traffic and travel safety, how to interact with others in the community at restaurants and shops, and appropriate behaviors in the business world. What should we focus on at home? How should we prioritize the skills he needs? And how can we consistently reinforce what you are teaching him at school?
Where is he showing progress? What do you see as his strengths and how can we help build on them? What is he passionate and excited about in school? How can we funnel that passion in a positive direction, to a hobby or even a future job?
How do we address our teen’s sexuality? He is just starting to enter puberty and we honestly don’t know what to expect. Addressing sexuality with a neurotypical teen is difficult enough, but what are the best practices for talking about sensitive topics and enforcing appropriate behavior with someone with special needs?
If he is not able to live independently, what are his options? We want him to experience life as a relatively self-sufficient adult, but what if he just isn’t able to care for himself? Do you recommend a group home environment? How will he be cared for in a group home? Are there day programs he can attend while still living at home with us? What are other parents’ experiences and advice around this?
What do we need to know about Special Needs Trusts, Social Security, and Medicaid? Are there workshops we can attend to help us with legal questions of guardianship and power of attorney for him? The question of how he will be cared for when we are gone looms large in our minds. In addition to having a will in place, how can we protect him and assure his long-term care?
In addition to all these questions, we also want to know what we don’t know. What are the important issues that we aren’t even asking yet, and what "should" we be thinking about?
Are there other parents or community groups we can meet with to talk about our experiences, challenges, and frustrations around guiding our children as they start to make their own choices and decisions?
While no one knows our child like we who live with him do, the knowledge and experience from your support system is invaluable and so appreciated as we embark on this journey to adulthood with our special needs teen. We are willing and happy to take all the help and advice we can get!
About RKS Associates
Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.
As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.