When a parent finds out their child is on the autism spectrum, whether that child is 4 or 34, the parent embarks on a new journey to understand how autism might affect their child’s future. Just as no two individuals on the spectrum are the same, no two parent journeys are the same either. Working with families over the years, and as parents ourselves, we recognize common themes and see pervasive concerns around certain topics. One major concern for parents of children on the spectrum is employment. Here are three areas that are helpful for parents to think about with respect to their child’s employment path.
Expectations: As parents, we may discover we are holding on to deeply embedded expectations about what our child’s life will look like. With a better understanding of our kid’s strengths and challenges, it is important to realize that in order for them to thrive, the right employment situation for them may be different from what we originally envisioned. For some, an office job may cause a sensory overload, but working outdoors in nature might be energizing. For others, their interests and attention to detail might a make a job such as lab work a great fit in the right environment. Others may prefer a highly structured routinized job, and some may need more variation to maintain focus and motivation. A 40-hour work week might be too much, but a part-time work or a flexible schedule might be the answer. The more we listen to our adult children and understand their unique profile, the more we can examine our expectations and dismantle and reframe them if necessary. This will help you encourage them to explore opportunities that fit their unique gifts and connect with their interests.
Time: As a child gets older, whether they choose to go to college or not, many parents look forward to the day when their child will “launch” or have an independent life separate from them and a career that will make this independence possible. But many of us discover that this launching process may take a lot longer than we expected and it may involve unforeseen twists and turns. Parents may feel understandable concern when their own financial situation is strained or their ability to fully engage in their own interests are delayed. In some situations, pursuing options such as income subsidies and other benefits can remove the financial pressure and provide an adult child time to evolve and gain independence at their own pace. If these options are available, this could lessen the urgency for you and your child, which we consistently see leads to less anxiety and fewer tensions between parent and child.
Comparison: It is very easy for many parents and adults on the spectrum alike to consciously or subconsciously slide into making comparisons. Looking at neurotypical peers or siblings, or even others on the spectrum who may have found their employment path easily can cause feelings of guilt or discouragement. Reminding ourselves that each person is unique and there is no single path to finding fulfilling work will help you as parents and your adult child focus on ways to use their incredible talents that fit best with their personality.
Ultimately, most parents want the same things for their child: to be happy and live a fulfilling life. When we keep this foremost in our mind, let go of our own preconceived ideas, and offer support, we empower them to discover what that will mean in their own life. AANE has many support options for parents and programs for individuals on the spectrum that focus on employment. Reach out to us for a free information and referral call to learn more.
Michele Cantara is the Co-Director of Adult Services at AANE and the mother of a young adult with ASD who is taking college classes and working part-time. She recognized her son’s social interaction issues early on because she studied psycholinguistics as an undergraduate. In 1998 she co-founded the Massachusetts Special Education Parents Advisory Council (MASSPAC). She also spent 35 years in the high-tech industry, and now applies her consulting and change management skills in adult consultations, parent coaching sessions, and support groups.