Grown Up

Life certainly changes after a person graduates from high school. That transition may actually be more difficult for family members than for the individual with autism. Unless a person is able to get a job and live independently, families must make significant adjustments as the daily support and activities offered at school stops at graduation. The reality of filling suddenly empty days has some families scrambling to help their loved one with autism lead a productive, enjoyable life now they have graduated from high school. Let’s look at a few steps that can help.

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Strategies that help a person transition from student to young adult must, of course, be custom-tailored to meet the unique needs of that individual, his living situation, his skills and interests, and his community. A person who is unable to take care of basic daily needs such as toileting and dressing definitely requires plan different from a person with autism who can live semi-independently. But a few basic concepts merit consideration no matter the circumstances.

1. Daily routine. Rather than just wandering through life and taking each day as it comes, our friends with autism would probably enjoy a regular, predictable daily routine. Many families find it helpful to use a written or visual schedule to build structure in each day and to help their friend with autism keep track of planned activities for the day. The schedule can include standard daily activities such meals, brushing teeth, and taking a bath, as well as regularly scheduled events such as chores around the house, exercise, pet care, free time, favorite television shows, and reading the daily comics.

2. Daily special events. Boredom can cause lethargy or agitation. A person who has nothing to look forward to can be cranky or mischievous. We can enhance the quality of life of an individual with autism by planning one or two simple events each day. Because most people thrive on regular and predictable schedules, we can plan enriching activities for each day of the week. So, for example, our friend could call Grandma every Monday evening, help cook supper every Tuesday, walk in the park every Wednesday, ride the exercise bike at the community center on Thursdays, and save their change for a shopping trip every Friday.

3. Pitch In. Ideally, our friends with autism can get a part time or full time job after graduation, whether independent or supported. Whether or not they are able to work, our friends’ lives can certainly be enriched through volunteer work. Sometimes we need to think creatively to find an appropriate volunteer “job,” but the benefits are worth the effort. Our friends with autism can lend a helping hand for five minutes a week or twenty minutes a day. They can help fold bulletins at church, help file medical records at the clinic, help run the vacuum cleaner at the day care, help deliver Meals on Wheels, or put the newspaper on the porch for elderly neighbors. All of our lives are enriched when people are given a chance to lend a helping hand.

Regular, predictable daily routines mixed with volunteer work and special events are key ingredients in the recipe for a fruitful life. We hope you will share your ideas about enriching the days of individuals with autism who have graduated from school. Just click on the comments button or send an e-mail to

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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