Many years ago, when I was starting my professional career in autism, I was invited to a graduation party of one of my clients. I was there with some co-workers, parents, and other students.
Parents were sharing some of the activities they were planning for their young adult children. They discussed how hard it was to find community-based services, leisure programs, and social activities for their young adults. They mentioned that many young adults stay in their homes for longer periods of time due to the lack of social activities, public/private resources, friendships, or communication abilities.
After all these years, are young autistic adults still struggling with this leisure activity dilemma?
As autistic individuals grow up and get older, families and professionals constantly think about different ways to include them in their communities. Some literature indicates that “Among those with an ASD, lower conversation ability, lower functional skills, and living with parents were predictors of less social participation” (Orsmond et al., 2014).
In addition to finding a reliable way of communication there are also some other important life skills that need to be integrated in their lives. Leisure participation is an important practice for the well-being of autistic individuals and has been attributed to improve their quality of life (Stacey et al., 2019). Diverse set of activities need to be planned in collaboration with these young minds.
It is clear that we all need entertaining/fun activities, social interactions, or even hobbies to maintain physical, emotional, and mental wellness. When thinking about young autistic adults it is beneficial to plan activities according to their interests, abilities, and strengths. It is also vital to provide adequate support and training and ask them about their preferences to make sure there is growth and enjoyment during these activities.
I have seen multiple times how parents, relatives or friends are the main advocates for autistic individuals across various programs. Many spellers and typers are now able to advocate for themselves.
Still, some studies suggest that there are certain limitations families and autistic individuals encounter when there is not enough planning or when social supports are not included. Participation can be limited to only family environments due to social attitudes towards inclusion from outsiders. Activities can also be limited when there is not enough support in communication, interpersonal relationships, and financial constraints (Askari et al., 2015).
Creating a safe and supportive environment where autistic individuals have the freedom to engage is definitely a process. In order to support and promote greater participation and enjoyment, we need to try various activities, pay attention, be creative, involve/organize the community, network, advocate, modify tasks and/or the environment, ask participants what they find most fulfilling, etc.
Some of the benefits of these activities include:
Improved communication skills
a sense of joy and fulfillment
supporting fine/gross motor skills
a feeling of welcome as a member of the community
Meaningful activities can include:
“Take a hike, go fishing, or even just sit in an open space for an hour. In the ensuing years, I have found ecopsychology doesn’t have to be adventurous (but it can be so much fun when it is)” (Russel James is an autistic singer-songwriter based out of Corvallis, OR. https://neuroclastic.com/autism-in-motion-ecopsychology-and-autism/ )
What has been your experience? What has worked or not?
Some resources in Maryland (feel free to share more with us):
Askari, S., Anaby, D., Bergthorson, M. et al. Participation of Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Scoping Review. Rev J Autism Dev Disord 2, 103–114 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40489-014-0040-7
Orsmond GI, Shattuck PT, Cooper BP, Sterzing PR, Anderson KA. Social participation among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013 Nov;43(11):2710-9. doi: 10.1007/s10803-013-1833-8. PMID: 23615687; PMCID: PMC3795788.
Stacey, T.-L., Froude, E. H., Trollor, J., & Foley, K.-R. (2019). Leisure participation and satisfaction in autistic adults and neurotypical adults. Autism, 23(4), 993–1004. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361318791275