Launching Your Autistic Youth to Successful Adulthood addresses concerns parents may have as their autistic child transitions to adulthood. Author Katharina Manassis discusses the upcoming release and more resources.
Can you briefly outline your background?
I am a retired Child Psychiatrist and Professor Emerita in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto where I taught and studied anxiety in children and adolescents for many years. In addition to the university, I had a private practice focused on cases my paediatric colleagues considered complex or challenging to treat, including many autistic young people. I am also the mother of two wonderful young adult children, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum.
What was the inspiration behind Launching Your Autistic Youth to Successful Adulthood?
In my clinical work, I saw children and youth with a variety of mental health problems, but young people on the autistic spectrum were among the most difficult to help. Even when their emotional or behavioural problems responded to treatment, they often experienced ongoing discouragement and frustration as they matured. They struggled to cope, to find meaningful ways to engage with others, and to find their niche in the world. Their parents struggled to effectively support and encourage them, while also having to advocate to reduce systemic barriers to their children’s success. My own son and I faced similar challenges as he transitioned from high school to post-secondary life.
Thus, I wrote the book based on both my professional and personal experiences with autistic youth and their families. It was inspired by their courageous struggles and was designed as a guide to help them overcome those struggles as well as planning for the long term. It was further encouraged by a national award I received from the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for a conference presentation on these ideas.
How could teachers and other educators, especially parents currently tackling home schooling, use Launching Your Autistic Youth to Successful Adulthood in an educational setting?
Before talking about Launching Your Autistic Youth, it is important to recognize how difficult the restrictions related to COVID-19 have been for this group of young people. Being cut off from social contact and from their usual programs and routines has been devastating for some and also resulted in deterioration in daily functioning for many.
In order for these youth to learn, we must re-establish daily times not only for academics but also for good health habits (sleep, exercise, hygiene, meals, etc.), regular social contact by telephone or webcast (facilitated by parent or educator), developing life skills, and the pursuit of their individual interests (with time limits if needed). This structure reduces anxiety and behaviour problems, and ensures that youth are more focused when it’s “learning time.”
To optimize learning, it is also important to pick a time of day when the youth is typically alert and comfortable, have a consistent, organized study space, and be positive about any work the youth completes even if it is not as much or as good as they typically achieved pre-COVID. Most people are not at their very best in these trying circumstances. Youth who are graduating high school this year are in an especially difficult position, and need to work with educators and with parents to plan for the transition to post-secondary life.
My book includes these ideas and describes in more detail how to implement them, despite the fact that it was written before the pandemic. There are chapters on how to work with youth to set goals and develop life skills while also respecting their emerging independence. There is a further chapter on education, including how to work with educators to craft a successful transition from high school to post-secondary training. The ideas are illustrated with practical case examples throughout the book to help them come alive and also summarized in take-home points at the end of each chapter.
What are some important lessons people, both adults and young people, can take away from your book?
Though I can’t summarize everything in Launching Your Autistic Youth, let me offer a few highlights.
For the young person:
- Change is hard, whether due to the transition out of high school, the pandemic, or other reasons. Nevertheless, with your abilities, knowledge, and support, you can persevere and find satisfying ways to live.
- Be open to different possibilities. For example, even if you can’t achieve the career you dream about, you can still find fulfulling paths. The “dream job” may become a nice hobby.
- Be open to different people. Not everyone will understand you as well as your favourite teacher in high school, but they may still be able to help you, care about you, or be fun to be around. Regardless, make an effort to reach out to them.
- Take care of yourself. If you stay healthy and in good shape, you will then have a much better chance of reaching your adult goals. If you’re not feeling well, make a list of questions for the doctor, as they will probably want to talk to you now rather than your parents.
- Tell your parents what you want and listen to them, too. Independence is great, but it takes time to get there, and your family has more connections with the “adult world” than you do.
- If you persevere and continue to learn, there’s no telling how far you will go!
For the parent:
- Don’t be discouraged if your youth’s development seems to stop or even regress after high school because losing the school structure and the familiar people there can be disorienting for most autistic youth. By offering encouragement, problem-solving, and maintaining some school contacts, you can help them adapt to this change.
- Talking to one’s autistic adolescent or young adult about goals or relationships is an art. Therefore, it is important to balance your need to protect them and see them succeed against their values and their desire for independence to find an encouraging middle ground.
- Supports for autistic young people are often not easy to find or coordinate. Consider involving a case manager, but use personal contacts too. Additionally, advocate for accommodations at school and at work.
- Don’t expect adult-focused health providers and educators to be as informed about autism as their paediatric counterparts. You or your youth may have to provide relevant information. Also, remember to ask these professionals what you can do to further the young person’s development, besides addressing the problem at hand.
- Plan for the future but don’t dwell there. Finances, estate issues, and living arrangements can generate a host of worries. Do what you can based on what you know today, recognizing that long term plans may have to be revisited depending on circumstances and your youth’s further development.
- As when traveling with your child on a plane, “put your own oxygen mask on first.” Taking care of your own health and well-being will put you in a better position to support your youth’s health and well-being. Think about how to support the autistic youth’s siblings too.
- Remember to perceive the autistic youth as a unique, complex person, rather than a project. Enjoy them!
Are there any additional resources you would recommend for parents and teachers looking for further resources or advice?
As a parent, it is helpful to have one book each on: employment, relationships, and problem-solving with the young person. My favourites include:
Bissonnette, B. (2013) The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Manassis, K. (2012) Problem Solving in Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy: A Skills-Based, Collaborative Approach. New York: The Guilford Press.
Ramey, J.J. and Ramey, E.M. (2008) Autistics’ Guide to Dating: A Book by Autistics, for Autistics and Those Who Love Them or Who Are in Love with Them. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishing.
Further mental health resources are listed on my website: www.katharinamanassis.com/resources/
For educators, I suggest:
Carter, E.W., Harvey, M.N., Taylor, J.L. and Gotham, K. (2013) ‘Connecting youth and young adults with autism spectrum disorders to community life.’ Psychology of Schools, 50, 9, 888-898.
There are also a variety of autism-specific educational resources on the Jessica Kingsley website:
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