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Navigating the Transition to Independent Living

Navigating the Transition to Independent Living

Transitioning out of the home and into a more independent living setting in the community can evoke a myriad of fears and concerns for individuals and family members alike.

The challenges of managing daily activities and responsibilities without support can loom large. Navigating social interactions and cultivating meaningful friendships can feel overwhelming, compounded by uncertainties about career paths and vocational skills.

Yet conquering this challenge and taking on these risks comes with valuable rewards, such as building confidence, self-reliance and self-advocacy skills and managing personal schedules. Living with roommates can add benefits, including close contacts who can listen and provide guidance.

The transition from a structured environment to a setting that requires more self-reliance can be achieved with careful planning and proactive steps. With the right strategies and expectations in place, this journey is within reach for many. The following three skill areas are critical for a successful launch into independent living.

Executive Skills

Executive functions apply across our lives, and it is critical to practice and create strategies to address executive functioning deficits. It is estimated that somewhere between 50 and 70% of autistic individuals also have attentional issues. Activation and task initiation are crucial executive functioning skills for independent living. Using visual prompts, therefore, can be a useful strategy. For example, posting checklists and other visual imagery, such as photos of your bedroom made up neatly and organized or a visual schedule for the week, can help.

Using morning and evening routines: Start by defining what a productive morning and evening routine for you entails. From waking up on time to ensuring you are sufficiently prepared the night before, these routines are critical in providing structure and stability. If you have a hard time getting up in the morning, setting yourself up at night may help. Showering, laying out clothes, packing lunch items, and organizing medications the night before will save you time and make your AM routine a bit easier.

Practice time management using estimation: Try estimating the amount of time you think it takes to complete a task, like getting ready for bed. First, write down approximately how long you think it takes to complete your routine. Then use a timer to record the actual time it takes. Were you accurate? Why or why not? Often, we underestimate the number of steps and time it takes. With this newfound knowledge, you will be better informed and also benefit from breaking larger tasks into more manageable steps.

Social Communication Skills

Effective communication and social skills are invaluable assets in navigating relationships and interactions with a roommate and also within the community. Social skills are the glue that often holds many aspects of our lives together. You must be able to manage the following when you live with others:

  • Setting goals for yourself and others
  • Making decisions as part of a group
  • Respecting personal space
  • Advocating for your rights
  • Having patience
  • Avoiding assumptions
  • Engaging in conflict resolution
  • Giving and receiving constructive feedback

Learning self-advocacy: Effective self-advocacy means advocating for your needs and wants confidently and respectfully. You will need to learn to navigate conflicts and seek clarity in communication. Role-playing different scenarios with family members or friends, such as setting expectations, speaking up when you have a problem, and managing conflicts, can help you increase your confidence and address issues that may arise.

Setting roommate rules of engagement: When living with others, it’s important to both clearly state your own needs and actively listen to the needs of others. In the first few days of living with a new roommate, it’s helpful to create a list of rules that you both agree to follow. For example, if you like to play an instrument or watch certain TV shows at night, will the noise bother your roommate? How will you work that out? What about guests, sharing food, and use of laundry machines? Sit down together and create a set of written rules that will identify how you will best meet each other’s needs. Meet weekly to proactively discuss how things are going and discuss your plans and schedules for the week ahead.

Household Living Skills

From cleaning and organizing to cooking and shopping, mastering essential household skills is key to living independently. Areas that you will need to consider may include:

  • Performing basic household chores and maintenance
  • Managing finances and paying bills, often with others
  • Knowing how to handle an emergency
  • Maintaining a healthy living environment
  • Maintaining personal hygiene
  • Accessing transportation

Cleaning and organizing: Create a basic cleaning checklist you can refer to an ongoing basis. Schedule regular maintenance tasks on your weekly calendar. Break down deep cleaning into manageable sections and allocate time accordingly to maintain a tidy living space. I prefer to schedule the main cleaning tasks like laundry, vacuuming, mopping, and dusting on one day weekly, and I plan time daily to wash the dishes, take out the trash, and organize my things.

Cooking skills and simple recipes: Cooking food at home is an extremely important skill that not only saves you money but can also keep you healthier. Learn how to prepare simple and well-balanced meals. Start by mastering a few staple recipes that you are comfortable preparing. Keep ingredient lists simple to make grocery shopping easier. Cooking your own meals and sharing them with others is a great way to build self-confidence.

As you embark on the journey toward independent living, remember that progress is achieved through patience, perseverance, and support. By staying organized and on time, practicing essential skills, and fostering open communication, you can embrace autonomy with confidence in your newfound independence.


Dan McManmon is president of the College Internship Program (CIP), a national organization providing comprehensive transition programs across the United States that empower young adults with autism and learning differences to find success in college, employment, and independent living. He has over 18 years of experience leading and managing programs for transition-age individuals with autism, ADHD, and other learning differences. His father was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in his late 50s. The experience and relationship growing up with his father have had a profound effect on McManmon’s understanding and compassion of autism, ADHD, and related learning differences.

The post Navigating the Transition to Independent Living first appeared on Organization for Autism Research.

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