#69 | It gets harder after high school. Here's why and what to do.

adulting autistic coach create develop encourage figure harder journaling kids life mistakes notice plan practice progress reinforce skills teach thoughts young adults May 18, 2022

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It gets harder after our kids graduate from high school. Here's why and what to do about it.

I was inspired to do this video by a mom who posted at the Facebook Page: Parents of Young Adults 13+ With Autism. Here are her thoughts and they ring so true to me.

No way did I imagined that this would get harder as my bug got older. I didn't even know what autism was when she was a baby. Screaming started in elementary school. An IEP was in place by fifth grade and throughout high school. But as she aged, I started seeing the obvious specific repetitions, social awkwardness, difficulties in communication or carry on conversation, not recognizing social cues, incredibly slow paced, but an amazing imagination and ability to express through artwork. She was aware that she was different but wasn't sure why she couldn't do something or why someone didn't understand her. It started seeing that my daughter was going to be a child longer. by the time she was 16. No driver's license or employment, but a constant focus on her current obsessions, toys, blankets, characters that make her happy as but happy didn't last especially after COVID shut the world down and 2020. Fortunately, graduation happened in 2021, but so did depression. But it didn't help when I was selling her childhood home.. Then we tried a couple of college courses and after three weeks I could tell that college isn't for everyone. Always behind and getting more frustrated and depressed. I cried when she wasn't with me because I felt helpless and know this is hard for her, too.

You hit on so many wonderful touch points that we all feel and I'm so happy you wrote this post so that I can answer and offer some things that I would like to share with you that have worked with our six adult children aged 25 to 52. Several are autistic and all are alternative learners. So let's start with the end in mind.

Adulting is what we want our kids to do. And that's the set of mental tools that help our kids manage their thoughts, emotions and actions so they can achieve goals set by them for them.

When we think about it, now that they're out of school, who's going to do the doing to achieve the goals that they want in life? They are. Who's gonna decide what they want in life? They are. That is so much harder than it used to be; a school defined life for them. All they had to do was do this course, this worksheet, read this book, write that paper, whatever it was, it was defined.

Now they have to define it. And that is complicated. But it can be simplified. And I had to figure this out. So I did simplify it. It's much simpler if you have a roadmap.

What's our role now? Our role has changed. We used to be a tutor, we used to be an advocate in the IEP process. We used to be scheduler of events to try to fertilize and encourage all of the social skills that we were hoping we would develop with our kids.

You know what is really our role now? I believe it's three things:

  1. I believe we need to encourage our kids
  2. We need to warn them of dangerous
  3. We need to be consulted by them.

I actually borrowed this. That's for the crown. I actually borrowed this from a book by Walter Bagheot, The English Constitution, because this is the role of Her Majesty the Queen. And you know, when you think about it, she doesn't legislate and tell the British people what to do. She encourages because she's seen how many prime ministers how many different things since she was in her 20s and became queen, she can warn, she knows exactly what might happen and she is there to be consulted, because why wouldn't you if you're a prime minister, ask her advice. That's who we want to be. In our kids life. We want to suggest to them that the five or six decades we've already lived have taught us a number of things that we want to help them with. Okay, but how do we do that? How does our role change to that of a coach?

Here are the eight mistakes that we want to avoid. As the coach of our autistic young adults. I'm going to go through each one.

  1. We need to create a plan because without a plan, our energy is just too dispersed and we cannot see progress.
  2. We need to practice the skills; we don't just need to learn them in college. You know, we just don't need to be able to rattle them off. We need to practice them. In everyday situations. We need to notice our thinking, we need to reflectively listen. There are so many good skills that are simple that we can sketch on the back of a napkin. There just really are a handful of really important adulting skills that are gonna need to create that helping our autistic adults create a life they love that works.
  3. And we need to do it, you know, with a process and there's a good one out there and it's got four steps that it.
  4. We need to create the steps, the experiments that we're going to take together because our kids need help. They need encouragement, they need cues. They need reinforcement. We need to celebrate all of those things need to be done together.
  5. And we need to warn them of the risks, especially around buffering which means that we're not feeling our feelings; we're trying to escape them. Or we're escaping our life. Escaping can look like YouTubing playing incessantly, street drugs, alcohol, sex, you name it. 
  6. There's a lot of options for buffering and that we need to warn them of the risks, and that’s what's creating those urges to do those actions are their thoughts. All problems are thoughts.
  7. Our seventh one is that we've tried to do too much. If we try to do so much at once our energy is so dispersed, we just cannot notice our progress and our brain just gets overwhelmed that it thinks it's never going to figure this out and that leads to depression.
  8. And then regular reviewing of what those things are, is so necessary to reinforce that we're making progress and figure out what we're going to do next.

So let me go through each one.

#1 Not creating a plan means that's just basically taking life and breaking it down. I've broken it down into 10 domains in the art of adulting. They really make sense. I've used them for over 20 years myself, and they are collectively exhaustive and mutually exclusive. So we can narrow this stuff down. It's just like putting together a business plan. And I suggest that why would we want to spend our energy and ask our young adults to spend their energy without a plan because energy is the currency for progress.

#2 We need to practice some skills. There's some basic skills, there's some thought skills (Quick Start Guide to STEAR Mapping), there's some listening skills, there's some learning from experience skills, and they're all based in journaling. The psychologists have really come to the conclusion that is the way to make progress in our mental health, strengthening our mental health our mind. Journaling is the key and I provide a handful of really important ones a couple of optional ones, but the handful of really important journaling skills, that when they practice them over and over again, they'll start to develop that history of where their thinking is. So important because our kids generally tend to have an overactive mammalian brain, the limbic system that gets them into fight, flight or panic. And when they're in panic, they cannot remember to plan, to figure things out and having the journaling done helps them see, "Oh, I remember when I faced that problem. And look what I've learned since!" It's amazing to track the progress our kids have made through their journaling. We can do this.

#3 The third thing is not creating collaborative proactive solutions. This is Ross Greene at LivesInTheBalance.org. This is the process that he teaches. So first we figure out what the facts are in the situation, what their thoughts and feelings are about it and ours because it's got to be a solution that's going to work for both of us. And then what are the next steps we're going to agree on. This makes all the difference in the actions that our young adults take.

#4 And then of course, not creating that together. Because collaborating we're going to get much better set of steps to practice. It's just true. And we can notice when you're practicing those steps, and we can celebrate and reinforce and cue and do all the things that we do as parents of autistic young adults, where we encourage, warn and are consulted. Of course, this whole process of creating a plan together, connects us, lets them see that we are the coach in their life. We are the ones who want to see them succeed. And a good coach is going to encourage the practice of the processes that work.

#5 Then we need to make sure they manage risk and risk is real. Risk is losing all of that energy to something that just doesn't create anything that works. A lot of gaming, a lot of alcohol and possible drug use, a lot of screen time watching videos, whatever it is that our children use to escape doing the actions that they need to do. Now, I'm gonna say escape. But I also want to recognize that we do have kids who can have ADHD symptoms, and 50% of autistic kids do. So sometimes it really is hard for them to focus and get down to doing the work. But that doesn't mean we can't create compensatory strategies. There are so many great ideas out there. Dr. Sharon Saline just did a session with me where we I outlined 12 of her great ideas about how to help get your kid get things done from an ADHD expert. That's what she is. She's amazing.

#6 And then of course not noticing what isn't that I'm thinking that's creating my emotions and my actions that produce my results really have to teach this metacognition skill that only develops in our kids in the 20s. We think, "Oh, why didn't they understand all the things that I understood when I was younger?" Or maybe we've all had trouble with some of the things that we that they are also having troubling trouble with. Why is that? Well, because the brain develops in us in a certain way from back to front and inside out. And so trying to teach that metacognition skill is something that we have to do in their 20s. We can get help from therapists and other professionals that we are the ones that are going to see a 24/7 acuity and reinforce it every time it happens.

#7 We have too many targets is our next thing. There's just too many things we're asking them to do all at once. We need to create a list of unsolved problems which are an indication of lagging skills. Again, Dr. Ross Greene teaches us all about that. So we decide which one are we gonna work on first, and who gets to make the priority? It's not us. It's them. When because they're going to do creation. When they decide one thing that we're gonna work on next, we need to step back, take a deep breath and let the process unfold, encouraging warning and being consulted by them as often as we can.

#8 Then we really, really need to just keep reviewing those 10 domains, figure out what they're doing well, what they want next on a regular basis, and that helps us reinforce all the things that they're doing well, which we really want to notice. And where is the next thing after they've created that one thing, what's number two, and as they do 12345 things, create what they want, five different things. They start to grow the confidence that they can create a life, confidence 'con fidere', the root is just with faith. They will develop a faith in themselves that they can figure out the problems and come up with solutions that will work and we're going to practice this with them until the end of our runway. So that we know when we're gone that they know how to do this.

So please notice that I have a free download outlining each of these mistakes to avoid and I want to just end by saying mistakes is spelled that way on purpose. This is just you know, when we have tried things and they don't work, they're just missing takes it's like when they're filming a movie. They sometimes spill in the same scene over and over again because it was a miss. Take. So mistakes just are things to learn from.

I've had to learn from what we had to figure this out. And I've taught it to the members of The Art of Adulting. And I'd love for you to join us there because they tell me that it's working for them. They've gotten around a few corners and they're making progress, slowly and predictably. That's what we want. Because we love our kids all the way down to their toes and we want to stay connected with them and just create a life together that we all love that works.

So please come to my blog, and you'll find the transcript and links to the some of the resources that I mentioned here. And please download eight mistakes to avoid when Systemising adulting with your autistic young adult. I think you'll find it very helpful.

Bye for now.