By Trevor Pacelli
I’d like to tell you about an autistic man named Kevin. He may be twenty-five years old, but he acts like a teenager. He still lives with his parents in the bedroom he’s had since he was eight. He has a bachelor’s degree in engineering and worked at Taco Time for a few months, but then quit because he didn’t absolutely love the job. That was a year ago, and he hasn’t had a job since then. He never does his own laundry, his mom does all the cooking for him (even making his breakfast), he has no driver’s license, heck, he doesn’t even clip his own nails without his mom’s help. He just stays in his room and plays video games all day every day. He has no expectations for himself. He is convinced that because of his autism, he cannot do any type of job, so his only goal is to complete his newest video game.
There are numerous people with autism who are like Kevin. If they aren’t quite as extreme as him, they’ll still most often settle for part-time jobs like flipping burgers or bagging groceries as career possibilities. Those jobs are fine if they enjoy the work, but I believe everyone has the potential for more, and everyone should be pushed to do more.
But I understand: I too have autism and believed that the weak communication skills that come with my autism limited my job opportunities. That’s where my parents came in to help. In addition to creating a compatible job for my skillset under their publishing company, my parents helped me learn to do other essential tasks growing up, such as getting my driver’s license, doing my own laundry, preparing my own meals, booking my own flights, and moving into my own home. Now, without their help, I have learned to do more: book my own hotel rooms and rental cars, and finding and adopting my own dog. From what I’ve learned, I feel that every autistic child and adult still dependent on their parents would benefit from a “dones” process similar to what I discussed in a previous article. This process should enable the autistic individual to set monthly goals that lead up to one big goal for the purpose of growth and progress toward independence, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Following are a few examples of the dones process.
Dones Process for Learning to Prepare Meals
Let’s say an autistic adult needs to create a six-month goal to start preparing and cooking their own meals regularly. In the first month, a done could be to compile research on healthy diets. The next month, a done could be to make a list of menus. The next month, they could set up a budget for groceries and practice a few shopping trips. The next month, a done could be to take cooking classes. The pattern continues until the six-month deadline when the autistic adult reaches the goal of buying and cooking food independently from their parents.
Some more examples of these goals could include:
But how could this work with a lower-functioning autistic adult? One who may not be able to speak and can never have the mental capacity to live alone? Then the goals would be simpler yet still challenging. Someone nonverbal on the autism spectrum who gets meltdowns in public may set a done where after six months a new system helps them avoid them happening. In the first month, the done may be to research potential self-relaxation techniques. In the second month, the done may be to find ways to communicate using certain hand signals. In the third month, the done may be to make info cards that help explain the autistic adult’s disability and how a stranger in a given situation can help. Then by month six, the autistic adult is prepared with all the appropriate techniques and equipment.
Some more examples of these goals could include:
This type of system worked for me when I was fourteen. That summer, I still hadn’t learned how to ride a bike, and my parents wanted me to learn. So that was a summer project between me and my mom: by the end of the summer, I would have mastered riding a bike. We first began practicing inside the garage, then progressed to the driveway, then to the parking lot of our nearby elementary school, and eventually, we met our end-of-summer goal. Throughout that next school year, and the year after that, I rode my bike to school a good portion of the time.
The Dones Process for Choosing a University
There was a similar system I used when I had to decide on a university to transfer to while I was getting my Associate’s degree in community college. I laid out a big chart breaking down the things to seek out in an ideal school, like the cost, application requirements, location, and so on. I had a list of fifty or so potential schools across the country, all with the info filled out. By my June deadline, I set a list of six schools to apply to and made sure to submit the necessary application materials before the deadlines were met. Once I received my acceptance letters (four out of six of them accepted me), I had to spend time weighing the pros and cons of each school. Ultimately, I concluded that the one with the best balance of quality, location and promise of getting a job afterward was in fact… Arizona State University. Looking back, this was the right decision, and I’m glad I went through this long exhaustive process of choosing the right fit for me.
The Dones Process for Adopting a Dog
In my adult life, I applied a “dones” process completely by myself when I decided to adopt a dog. It was fully my decision to get one and I knew that in order to reach that goal, I first had to seek out dog owners I knew and ask them questions about what to prepare for. In my research, I learned that (due to my condo rules) the dog had to be small and housetrained, meaning this dog couldn’t be a puppy or any bigger than twenty pounds. Once I felt I had enough research, I began filling out application after application to reliable adoption centers until I finally got a call back to meet a terrier mix named Bijou. The morning of the adoption, I did my Petco run to buy the stuff I knew from my research I was going to need, and that afternoon, I met Bijou, filled out the paperwork, and brought her home. Now her name is Bella, and I’m so much happier today than I had ever been before she came into my life.
These three experiences of mine should prove why setting goals and subgoals to reach that ultimate goal is so valuable to anyone on the autism spectrum who needs the motivation to care for themselves. I wish the best of luck to you and your autistic child as you work through this journey together.
Trevor is an adult with autism and is the author of 6 books about autism and disabilities.
Inspiration for Life with Autism
This blog has a variety of articles about people living life with autism, and topics and ideas that can help in the journey. Guest bloggers are welcome. Inspired by Trevor, a young adult film critic, photographer and college graduate on the autism spectrum.