Preparing for the Social Transition to Adulthood With Special Needs

Perhaps the single greatest, and most frightening moment of a parent’s life is the birth of a child. As you stare in the innocent and precious eyes of your newborn, the gravity of the task of being a parent falls squarely upon your shoulders.

Preparing for the Social Transition to Adulthood With Special Needs

No book is given to you that has all the answers of parenting; no guidelines are provided as to what you must do to raise this untainted little soul to become a functioning member of the next generation of our society. The task of being a parent, the responsibilities, and the duties of doing so in an ever-changing dynamic and fluid world become yours alone.

Yet, with all the knowledge of these monumental tasks that are ahead of you as a parent, the inevitable stopwatch towards adulthood generally begins before you are ready. You have only 18 years that starts from the time you set eyes on that little life to give them the guidance on the bumpy road of life towards adulthood.

We wonder how our children will make it in a world that we know will have challenges and pitfalls, highs and lows, good and bad. It is a world that we want to insulate them from the harsh realities until they are fully ready and can leave the nest of our homes.

There is so much to prepare children with special needs on their way to adulthood. Time grows short before you have an adult who towers over you and wants to spread their wings towards independence. Those wings strengthen, however, by beginning with that end goal in mind. In this article, we will look towards that vein.

Be Your Own Best Friend

In adulthood, self-esteem and emotions can, and will, be tested. Relationships dissolve, peers can be mean, and sometimes those your trust most may disappoint you. Hence, what a child says to him/herself is vital towards successful emotional adulthood. Teach your child to be “their own best friend.” The litmus test for this is that children cannot say anything about themselves that they would not say to their “best friend.”

Do Not Do for Your Child What They Can Do for Themselves

Let us say your child attempts to make his/her bed. If it’s not done to your standards, you may remake it. This teaches your child implicitly then that he/she cannot do anything correctly without parental intervention. Having children begin to try to succeed on their terms teaches the concept of perseverance.

Teach Assertiveness

Our world is full of aggressive people; people who will bully their way into getting what they want and walk and step over those they can. In equal amounts, are those who are passive, who are walked all over and do not ever express what they need from the world around them. Teach assertiveness skills in which a child can:

1. Express how he/she feels

2. Express why he/she feels that way

3. How he/she would like to solve the issue (most important)

Everyone Gets Their Say, If Not Their Way

In our families and, in life, everyone should have at least an opportunity to express their feelings and opinions. Encourage everyone in the family to express their opinions and thoughts regarding their family to allow them to learn the art of negotiation with family, friends, and eventually diverse members of society.

A “Junior” Example of an Adult Issue

As parents, our goal should not be to punish our children. Rather, it should be to discipline them for a world that requires such discipline and restraint regularly. To do this, it means that we must provide logical and natural consequences for actions that occur in the real world. So ask yourself, before you give a consequence, how does this teach my child to be more effective and productive in the world he/she is going to grow to inherit?

Let Them Fail

Occasionally, we will fail at something in life. Our children have fallen many times on the way to walking. Failure stings, we reorient ourselves and find a way to succeed or move in another direction. However, childhood is the preparation for understanding what creates the pathway for our ultimate success. When your child fails, avoid the temptation to always step in. Instead, discuss failure as temporary and help them formulate their next steps.

Allow for Unstructured Playtime

Often, we talk about organized team sports and activities to develop social skills. Social skills, however, are best tested in unstructured time when a child must learn how to converse and navigate with peers. Allow for this type of play/interaction with peers as it allows a child to sharpen those burgeoning social skills.

Special Offer

Don't miss out on our special offer.
Click here to find out more

And Team Work Too

The world that is out there is increasingly about collaboration; working with other people for a common goal. Therefore, it is still a good idea for children to learn the skill of negotiating towards a common goal. Keep in mind that this does not always mean team sports (though this is one area). Scouting, religious youth groups, “Lego clubs,” or anything else that will be useful in getting aptitude in team collaboration enriched.­

Teach About Social Media Early

The world of technology does not look like it is going away anytime soon. Now, as parents, we can believe that our children are locked safely behind the doors of our homes. In reality, tucked behind our child’s bedroom door is a gaping opening to the scary world of the web. Hence, we must teach our children not just street smarts; but digital street smarts and digital citizenship as well.

Give Chores and Allowances

Children spend their childhood trying to find their place in this world. Giving chores gives them responsibility and a function within the daily operations of the family. Additionally, without the concept of allowance, children never quite understand the purpose of how money operates. Case, and point, if you buy something for a child, he/she will happily accept it. If you tell the child to use his/her own money, he/she will generally think twice.

If It Has To Do With Them…It Should Involve Them

When children are young, we typically don’t invo­lve them in educational plans in special education services. However, as they grow older, they should have some idea of advocating for themselves and be a part of what they ultimately want from their educational experience.

Remember Entitlement Versus Qualification

When our children are in public education, they are entitled to a myriad of services. Then, once they graduate, services fall off the cliff to the world of qualification. This means that you must now actively seek out services. The more proactive you are in this venture, the more you can help prepare. ­

Our children become adults in the blink of an eye. As parents, we have so many obligations and responsibilities that are fleeting and do not last. We will never have another opportunity to pass the vital tools for becoming an adult again. Our kids will only pass through the doors of childhood once, and when they leave, we must do everything them to give them the best shot at a well-rounded, successful life.

This article was featured in Issue 92 – Developing Social Skills for Life

Brett Novick

Brett Novick holds a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, PA and a Master's Degree in Family Therapy from Friends University in Wichita, KS, as well as post degree work and certification in School Social Work from Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ and in Educational Leadership. Novick is licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and State Certified as a School Social Worker, Principal, and Educational Administrator. Novick has worked as a School Social Worker/Counselor for the last fifteen years and is an adjunct instructor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  He has also authored national and international articles in American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, National Education Digest, NJEA Review, National Association of Special Education Teachers, NASSP Principal Leadership, Better Mental Health, and ASCD Educational Leadership Magazines. He has been received several awards for his work in education, inclusive education, counseling, and human rights. For more info visit