As difficult as it is to let go of control, it is important to work toward developing independence skills for your teenager at home and at school.
Increasing the amount of chores and independent tasks that are expected to be completed as the individual becomes older leads not only to increased self-worth but to improved functional processing and a more productive lifestyle. You may need visuals and routine charts for morning and evenings to serve as reminders and help the person develop a schedule.
Start with teaching the basic self-care and hygiene skills that he or she can do on his or her own, including dressing, learning how to work the shower faucet, proper cleaning routine, oral hygiene, wearing deodorant and shaving. For females, it’s even more important to learn how to maintain hygiene during the menstrual cycle.
There are many chores around the house that your child can learn early in life and continue to expand as he or she gets older. These tasks can be as simple as collecting the trash, clearing the table, making the bed and putting dirty laundry in the hamper. More difficult tasks could involve washing and folding clothes, yard work and washing dishes. According to the The Learning Program of DSFOC, start by targeting the skill, break it into steps, pick a reward, observe the progress and troubleshoot problems.
Technology can be a great asset. However, it’s important to teach your child the skills he or she needs to navigate it appropriately. This will mean explaining how to use email, what is appropriate to say in an email, what’s the appropriate response time when interacting with someone via email and how to figure out of it’s real mail or spam mail in the inbox. Anyone who has a social media account (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) should have a solid understanding of what public versus private information is before sharing pictures or personal information online. Teens should also understand what the Internet is and how to appropriately navigate it. Teaching these skills early on will be helpful in preparing for your post-secondary transition to the work environment.
The ability to self-advocate is important for kids to learn in order to be successful at all stages of their lives. In the past, self-advocacy was a term applied mostly to adults with disabilities, but recently more focus has been placed on teaching this skill to preteens and teenagers.
Self-advocacy is understanding your strengths and needs, identifying your personal goals, knowing your legal rights and responsibilities, and communicating these to others. Because your child may take longer to learn and master skills, he or she must practice maneuvering through life’s challenges and obstacles to make sure his or her needs are met.
Until now, you’ve been your child’s best advocate. But the earlier you teach him or her to advocate for himself/herself, the more prepared he or she will be for life ahead — no matter what path he or she takes after high school. Whether in the workplace or on a college campus, your child must understand his or her strengths and limitations, know how they affect his or her performance, and be able to communicate this to other people.
Independence at school is important but you have to determine what skills the child needs and when he or she is ready and whether your child will be safe. When considering independence, think about how your child gets to school, opens and uses a locker, works in class, transitions between classes, eats lunch and has recess, and after school activities. How does your child do these things compared to typical kids? How much help does your child need to do these things? Are there areas where you can phase out your child’s aide? Thinking through these scenarios will help you take the steps necessary to develop more independence. When your child turns 14, he or she can be an integral part of the IEP team. Many students like participating in their own IEP meetings and advocating for their needs.