By: Kristin Sohl, MD, FAAP
We all go through transitions in life. Some of these transitions just happen, like when your infant became an active toddler. Others go more smoothly when we prepare. If you are a parent or caregiver of someone with autism spectrum disorder, preparing them and yourself for the transition to adulthood can be a game-changer. Planning can make the difference between a successful transition or a stressful situation for both the teenager on the autism spectrum and their parent or caregiver.
Here's what we know:
People on the autism spectrum tend to like predictability. Change can be hard, and transition to adulthood is all about change. It starts happening around age 12 and continue into adulthood: body changes caused by hormones, environment changes with school and healthcare, life skill changes with responsibilities and roles and so much more. Legally things change at 18, too.
What is your role as a parent or caregiver or as an autistic pre-teen/teen?
Start learning the transition steps.
It's a good idea to start thinking about transition to adulthood at age 12. Transition steps may include healthcare, plans after high school, legal changes after age 18 and daily living plans.
Ask for guidance along the way.
Don't hesitate to ask your pediatrician for guidance and support. Pediatricians can help you find an adult health care specialist, for example. They can also guide you to local and national resources to help you and your child create plans for the future.
GotTransition.org is one example of a trusted resource with information on transition and healthcare.
Stay connected with your child's pediatrician.
Regular visits with your pediatrician are critical to staying connected with them as a trusted resource. As an expert in children and youth, they can help guide you through the next stages of developing into adult.
Help your child develop their voice.
A critical part of transitioning to adulthood is helping your child develop their voice to advocate for their own health and wellness goals. Work with your pediatrician and your child to build skills to navigate their healthcare like making appointments, filling prescriptions and medical decision making.
Transition to adulthood is filled with many milestones. Just as when your child transitioned from infant to toddler and the many stages that followed, your pediatrician is a vital partners in this stage of development, too. As a team, autistic youth, parents and caregivers and pediatricians can plan for and achieve successful transitions into adulthood.
About the author
Kristin Sohl, MD, FAAP, is a professor of Clinical Child Health at the University of Missouri and is the Executive Director and founder of ECHO Autism. Dr Sohl is the Chairperson of the AAP Council on Children with Disabilities Autism Subcommittee.