Part V:  Transition to Adulthood

While some might define independent living simply as "living by one's self," it means a great deal more to people with disabilities. Independent living is a philosophy that grew out of the period in our history when people with disabilities moved back into their home communities after years of dependence and isolation in large institutions. In this sense, independent living means the opportunity to exercise choice, to be treated as an adult, and to realize one's dreams. 

For any young person, meaningful self-direction takes many years of planning and practice. This may 

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involve taking risks and trying things that do not work out the way one hoped. For parents, it can be tempting to "protect" our son or daughter from such mishaps, especially if he or she has a disability. Giving a young person with ASD the opportunity to make his or her own mistakes involves both a careful assessment of risk and courage. Once again, parents often find themselves in a place with many questions and no easy answers.

Compounding this challenge is the fact that at 18, or 21 if the student elects to remain in special education services, all the rules change: Your son or daughter is an adult, under the law, and parents do not have the same rights to personal information and decision-making authority. Eligibility for benefits must be reassessed, and funding is increasingly complex. There are many new avenues to explore, such as post-secondary education options and supported employment.  

Balancing all these elements takes careful and consistent planning.  In fact, the planning process itself can be a teachable moment.  Person-centered planning is a process that structures this conversation.  The student or young adult is at the center of this process, but helped by a team of the people he or she knows best.  Person-centered planning takes a holistic view of adult life, considering everything from housing options and employment to leisure activities and personal growth. The team is challenged to look at not only public benefits, but the natural supports -- friends, family, connections -- who can help turn a desired goal into a reality. 


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