I’ve entered that phase of motherhood that most of us don’t prepare for – the parent of a young adult on the spectrum with low support needs. It is a tricky time when we see our young adults have the capacity to become independent, but they need some help, and we may not know as parents what our role should be.
I often envisioned all these amazing things for my son as he entered college. He was his own quirky person, and he didn’t have the whole circle of friends to hang out with on Friday nights that I had as a teen. He was buried in his schoolwork and video games. His grades were great, and he was rewarded with scholarship after scholarship. While I did have to monitor deadlines and ensure he was doing his work, I convinced myself he would be better in college.
Then college came. This child of mine was accepted into a top school, and he had an amazing roommate with a promising year ahead. This was my vision. This was the plan, but as life so often shows us, life doesn’t always go as planned.
That first year of college, he became a different person. He was so easily influenced by his surroundings, and I often wondered where I fit in his life anymore. He didn’t respond to all my messages, and our once close relationship turned into a very distant one.
Covid hit freshman year, and his pandemic spring break turned into a semester and a sophomore year of virtual classes. He contained himself to his room, or as my husband and I often referred to it, “the cave.” He wouldn’t go out or even drive around. He was petrified of catching Covid, and he let go many of the responsibilities around the house that were expected of him. Once again, I blamed it on the fact that he was so engaged in school, and he was video gaming for a mental escape.
Life kept taking these weird twists and turns, and the following year he returned to school. He wanted to live in off-campus housing with the same awesome roommate we met freshman year. When his father visited his apartment, we discovered he was living in dirty surroundings, and he wasn’t maintaining his space daily. I’m not speaking of the typical “messy boy” but what I thought would require a hazmat suit to clean when I showed up with cleaning supplies in hand.
I realized what the reality was. This brilliant, beautiful boy of mine had lost executive functioning skills along the way. Without the daily guidance from mom and dad, he was just overwhelmed and lost. He didn’t know how to set his daily routine and structure. He knew he had to do two things – go to class and work his part-time job. He knew clearly the environment had become too messy. He knew it was nothing to be proud of, but it was such a HUGE picture for him to wrap his head around. He couldn’t imagine where to begin. He needed me there to give him a fresh start.
Did I fail him as a parent? I don’t know the true answer to that, but I do know that I wanted to see the best in my son. I wanted to see him thrive, and I didn’t want to imagine that there was a problem because he had functioned so well for so long when living at home. How did we get here and what did we do about it now?
I am learning through this position with the Autism Society of North Carolina that I am not alone. Many of you share my story. We are in the phase with our children that they are old enough to be independent, they desire independence, but they need some guidance. Our lovely little picture schedules no longer work for our kids in their 20s. So, how do we help?
One thing that has benefitted my son is daily texting. Each day I text him to see what he has on the agenda and what extra task he needs to do around the house. We set a game plan, and I check in with him at the end of the day to see how the day went.
The Autism Society of North Carolina hosts several programs that I wish I’d had available to me prior to these years. Through IGNITE, the Autism Society of North Carolina offers an amazing Jumpstart Program for rising high school seniors to teach them these crucial skills they’ll need to be ready for college. They focus on educational, vocational, and life skills for our children entering the world. Post high school, the IGNITE program carries them through to the next phase of life, continuing this support in a positive and nurturing environment as young adults pursue goals of education, employment, and independence.
As Autism Resource Specialists, we connect families to transition counseling and services available to them if IGNITE isn’t in their area, and we help offer tools to support your young adult. We prepare you as a parent for expecting the unexpected. We can direct you to life coaches and tools that enable you to support your young adult and support them as they journey into the world beyond education.
A friend of mine once told me that parenting little ones and teens was easy compared to parenting a young adult. They turn 18, and your entire world changes. She was right on every level. These are the hardest years I ever experienced with a child, and it tests your patience in ways it’s never been tested. However, the Autism Society of North Carolina is here to support our families. I am thankful for the team here that has provided me with knowledge from their own experiences and connected me to the many resources available. My own family has a transition program plan for post college to help my son work on career planning and life independently.
You are not alone on this journey. Let us connect with you and help you find the resources and support you need during these years. When you call or fill out our form, you will be connected with an autism mom who has been on a journey of their own and understands what you are going through.
Cindy Martin is an Autism Resource Specialist in the Triangle region. Autism Resource Specialists are available to help individuals and families in every county of North Carolina. To be connected to the Autism Resource Specialist near you, please fill out this form.
Tags: autism, autism asperger parenting tips, autism behavior, autism resources, Autism Society of North Carolina, autism support