As the Residential Program Director for Southwind Fields, I work with young adults who are moving out and trying to live independently for the first time.
Part of living independently is learning to eat healthy and exercise. It is a challenge to convince a young adult to exercise and eat healthy when this was never the focus growing up.
“Since people on the spectrum tend to be sedentary, it’s no surprise that they are also overweight.”
Dr. Jim Ball chairman of the Autism Society of America.
For our clients we establish a daily routine and use motivation and encouragement for them to follow it until it becomes habit.
- We wake up
- Next we eat
- Then we shower
- After, we brush out teeth
- Then we get dressed
- Walk or go workout for at least thirty minutes
- Drink 8 glasses of water throughout the day
- Plan meals ahead of time
We teach them to set timers on their phones to help follow the schedule. Ideally this should start at home at a young age.
This sounds like a great idea but as with all people sometimes you wake up and give yourself excuses like: my stomach hurts, it’s too cold or it’s too hot or the ultimate excuse, “I’m tired”.
Now we work with adults to join fitness clubs with trainers who understand not only Autism but the lifestyle the individual has chosen as a child, teen, and now as an adult.
Second, we have incorporated joining Special Olympics because many individuals love the competition.
I also encourage individuals by not taking them on an outing or out to buy a game unless I have seen them and worked out with them for a minimum of thirty minutes a couple of times a week.
Many of our individuals, like a lot of kids today, are addicted to their phones and video games and don’t care about improving their physical health. At that age they don’t really understand the importance. They do like verbal praise from their parents or circle of friends, so praise and encouragement is very important. Tangible rewards are important so find out what motivates your child.
Workout buddies are a fantastic way to be held accountable, so find a friend that needs to or wants to work out also.
As with everyone, living a healthy lifestyle is of the utmost importance. If you’ve ever heard Temple Grandin speak she will tell you that video games should be banned. I don’t know that I would go to that extreme, but our children’s sedentary lifestyle needs to be limited for their own well-being.
“You have to keep autistic children engaged with the world.You cannot let them tune out”
Many factors play into a person’s mental health. Communication styles can even be tied into mental health. Having roommates that you must learn to communicate with on a regular basis can be a helpful treatment for depression and isolation. Having roommates can also offer the opportunity for learning valuable social skills that living alone would not. Learning how to live with someone else is an important step in development. Both independence and community involvement go hand in hand for successful living skills, especially for those with ASD.
I began working with a young man I will call Buddy to work on social skills and making connections with others. Buddy recently moved out into the community for the first time and was provided a roommate with a similar profile.
Buddy has lived most of his life in a rural area and was able to remain in his room for long periods of time playing video games. He often had thoughts that would provoke a tense look on his face and he would start punching in the air. Buddy is an extremely kind and gentle young man, however this characteristic causes others to get concerned.
The first step that took place was a dinner with the new roommate so that they could get acquainted with each other.
During this time the two were asked to turn off their phones and openly talk to each other. Buddy is very quiet and his new roommate is very social and does not do well with confrontation. The two were asked open ended questions. Buddy would answer the questions, but his answers were short. His roommate had long animated answers. Despite these communication differences they seemed to get along well. After dinner they were asked to exchange phone numbers since they were going to live together and would be relying on each other.
Buddy will not mention that he gets depressed or anxious but his body language will show it.
With my decades of direct support with individuals who have Autism I have noticed a few commonalities with social skills modeling and maintaining positive healthy friendships. Mentorship and role models are incredibly important for adults with ASD. There are many ways that you can make sure that this invaluable resource is available to your adult children, and it is never too early to start.
As we all know society is ever-changing. What we, as educators and parents have feared for our adult children years ago is pretty much the same now but with even more dangers. We live in constant fear of bullying online and making positive friendships both at work and volunteering in the community. Even the city bus is a fear of uneasiness. “What if’s” are in our minds constantly.
The goals I have tried to teach families are to have a buddy system and to gradually fade out.
I work and have always worked with Youths in Transition. As a support team we search out an appropriate buddy for each individual long term and then begin to fade out. Most times we have to pay individuals to be a friend or advocate for our children. It’s just a fact of life. Your adult child is like anyone else. For a friendship to develop we need consistency, time, and a sense of safety.