Frequently, despite highly developed cognitive skills, underdeveloped independent living and social/communication skills prevent AS teens and adults from getting the life they desire and deserve—but there are things you can do to improve the situation, and it all starts with getting to know yourself.
In 1994 a young woman came to me for help. Michelle had recently been diagnosed with a previously little known “disorder” called Asperger Syndrome (AS). After graduating from Smith College, she felt adrift and unfulfilled. However, she was also smart, willing to try something new, and determined to “get a life”: friends, meaningful employment, and a significant other. So we went to work. Together we created a model—a way of framing important life issues, and a set of strategies for addressing them. Over the next few years, our use of this model led to the attainment of all Michelle’s goals. Since then, I have used it to help many more teens and adults with AS meet their own goals. People call me a life coach.
We can call this approach the self-knowledge model, founded on the premise that self-knowledge can lead to improved functioning. That is, the more you know about your profile—the specific ways in which AS affects you and affects the way others see you—the more you will be able to change your approach, and to take control of the AS traits that may be interfering with your achievement of your goals. You will also benefit from identifying other things about yourself—your unique set of interests, abilities, personality traits, gifts and challenges—that may not be directly related to AS.
Using the self-knowledge model, however, you can progress toward your goals and improve your quality of life. The process is simple to understand, although the implementation can sometimes be challenging and take some time.
It begins with a commitment to a vision:
- What do you want in your life?
- What are your personal goals?
- Where do you see yourself living, studying, or working after high school graduation?
- How and with whom do you picture yourself spending your leisure time?
Once goals are defined the work can begin:
- What step do I need to take to achieve my goals?
- What additional information do I need?
- What new skills do I need to learn?
- What might get in the way of achieving my goals?
- In what ways would I need to change my behavior to remove this obstacle or constraint, or what strategies could I use to overcome it?
It can be hard to articulate our own dreams, and hard to see ourselves as others see us. Throughout the process, it helps to have someone else provide another set of eyes and be a sounding board for our ideas. An experienced, trusted adult such as a life coach can provide essential feedback and support. Using observation and formal and informal assessments, constraints are identified, prioritized and targeted. New attitudes, approaches, and behaviors are tried out. This often requires trying “the un-natural”—which makes sense when “the natural” does not seem to be working! This can be difficult, but with support, and ongoing, collaborative modification of interventions, it can be extremely effective.
The self-knowledge model formed the basis for the recent AANE conference for adults Know Yourself: The Key to a Better Life. We will now present it in workshop for teens on Getting a Life that Fits the Real You. In this workshop you will participate actively and constructively in defining your own goals, identifying strengths and enhancing talents, identifying and removing obstacles, and progressing toward a successful future as a young adult. You will lay the groundwork for the “vision statement” that is a required part of an Individualized Education Plan for teens age 14 and older. (Even if you don’t have an IEP, you can still use this important tool to create the life you want.) By creating a vision statement, and presenting it to your educational team, you will be enlisting the energies of teachers and parents to help you succeed and achieve your dreams.
I also present the self-knowledge model in detail in my two books Asperger Syndrome: An Owner’s Manual (2006, for middle school students) and Asperger Syndrome: An Owner’s Manual Volume 2 for Older Adolescents and Adults (2007). These interactive workbooks guide you through the process of identifying your personal profile in order to develop customized interventions. You can use them on your own, with a coach, or in a group with an experienced facilitator. Those who register for the teen workshop may choose to purchase a workbook when registering. You can also buy a copy from the Autism Asperger Publishing Company through the bookstore page of the AANE website, www.aane.org.
Ellen Korin is a special educator with extensive experience in public and private education and an active consultation and coaching practice. The author of two books on AS, she teaches a graduate course at Antioch University New England and provides professional development for educators, clinicians, and parents. Contact her at email@example.com to arrange workshops or professional development for your school, parent group, or clinical staff, or private individual coaching sessions. Ellen is working on a new book, Voices of Autism: People on the Spectrum Speak Out about Survival in the Neurotypical World. If you are a teen or adult on the spectrum interested in telling your story (confidentially) and sharing your survival strategies and your advice for the neurotypical world, please contact Ellen at firstname.lastname@example.org.