Teaching Adulting to Children on the Spectrum

Because more adults on the spectrum are giving voice to their experiences now than in the past, those of us with younger children on the spectrum are benefiting from their wisdom and advice.

Teaching Adulting to Children on the Spectrum

The biggest take away I have from what I read and see by these adults is that being an adult on the spectrum does not look the same as being a child on the spectrum, which means I must look to what my child can become and start parenting in a way to guide him towards that adulthood.

In the early years of his diagnosis, adulting was an unimaginable goal for us to have for him. We believed he would remain the dependent child he was. We even made plans for our basement that would accommodate our adult child living with us, and I changed my career to one that would allow him to work with me someday. We now believe he won’t even want to stay with us, which is a bit frightening, honestly, but positive.

He is nine and capable now of learning to adult even if he isn’t aware of it. I’ve settled on four skills to build in young kids that will prepare them for adulting because they are on my mind right now. There is a plethora of them. There are other skills we’ve already introduced, and more still that will come as he develops and shows us what he can handle.


Stop laughing. Or crying. From the ages of three to five, our son was rigidly routine-driven, so we became the most flexible we have ever been, pulling on stores we didn’t know existed. His security depended on routine, having desired behavior depended on routine, and being able to learn depended on routine. He will probably always carry this need for routine with him, and it can serve him well, but we are seeing areas now where we can ask for and receive flexibility from him, and we must nurture that. Areas where we have slowly been able to create more flexibility:

  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Leisure activities
  • Travel


His older brother needed to log volunteer hours for his black belt, and we brought our autistic son along. He was happy to pick up the trash on the trail around the lake and in the woods. Eventually, he will understand why we are doing these things. He has already been on the receiving end of volunteerism and may be for the rest of his life, so giving in return can be something we will train to become natural in him.

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A job well done

It wasn’t long after our son started to respond to ABA we realized that if taught how to do it right the first time, he’d do it that way every time. With our neurotypical child, we often taught and still teach him things in stages or with the shortcuts we’ve already learned. However, our autistic child can’t understand why some dishes that come out of the dishwasher can go straight into the cupboard while others must be wiped dry first, so we’ve taught him to wipe them all. The result is he is the best at this job of anyone in the house.

Taking the initiative

Picture schedules plant the seeds for this. Once our son realized what they meant, he often took the initiative in his day, especially when a preferred activity was up next. When we stopped the picture schedules at home, we moved to verbal “first, then, then, then” schedules and found he would take the initiative.

When our neurotypical child was three, he came up with a system for making friends at the playground: introduce himself, give his age, and ask to play. Thus, he was never without a playmate. Now that our autistic son’s language can be understood by all, we are teaching him to use the same system, but not just for playtime. When he arrives for a therapy session, he now greets the receptionist by name, says “Hi” and gives his name, and tells her/him he’s ready.

If your child is young, you may not be ready to think about adulting. You may still be in the state of wondering if he/she will ever just ‘child’ in a recognizable manner. Put this in a file for when you are ready because you will need to start thinking about adulting sooner than you expect. You’re doing what’s needed to make that happen.

That you are reading this is proof. You’re doing a great job. If your child is older, you’ve got this. Help him/her be the adult you’ve become. Awesome.

This article was featured in Issue 95 – Managing Autism Together

Rita Roem

Rita Roem

Rita Roem is a lifetime writer recently turned author. She was a high school English teacher for twenty years but left teaching not long after her youngest son was diagnosed with autism. She spends her time caring for him and the whole family along with helping other parents of children with autism find resources and cope. She lives with her family of four in Northern Colorado. For more info visit turninginsideout.weebly.com