Attaining Independence with Girls with Autism
Vou Akinsehinwa April 2018
Independence is the ultimate target of every effective and efficient special needs intervention. All parents desire that their children grow to be responsible adults who are able to take care of themselves even when the parents are not there. Following the theme for this year’s autism awareness month: Empowering women and girls on the autism spectrum, these are some ways that parents and caregivers can empower their children towards independence:
Formal Education: statistics have shown that girls with special needs are more likely to be withdrawn or drop out of primary school than their boy counterparts. Giving girls and women formal education is very important as it opens the doors of language, literature, math, social studies and other subjects that they will use in relating to and enjoying the world around them. Some form of formal education is the foundation for a career or even running a business as the need to tell time, calculate figures, take and keep records etc will come with living and working as an independent adult. Some children with special needs have the capacity to attain high academic achievements and do well in their fields of interest.
Vocational Training: arts and crafts, hair dressing, fashion designs and tailoring, music, carpentry and furniture making, interior design, beading and jewelry making, catering etc are usually hands-on trainings and individuals with kinesthetic strengths will thrive in these. As teachers or parents of special needs children, we need to expose our children to any art form of their interest as it can end up being a source of engaging them or employment as independent individuals.
Functional Life skills and communication: bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and dishes are essential in an independent life. Functional communication like going grocery shopping, taking transportation, calling for help etc are all important and necessary. Even though some parents may eventually choose not to let their child live alone, it is very important that they learn to do things for themselves as their security and safety will depend on it.
Physical Development and Puberty: Like all girls, special needs will not stop your baby girl from developing physically. Just like you would any other girl child, it is even more important that the special needs girl is given a heads up long before these changes begin. Teach her about the expected physical, emotional and psychological changes. Part of the functional curriculum should include wearing a bra, using a sanitary pad, intimate washing and personal grooming among other things. The only difference with your typical girl child is the method of teaching. Social stories and a lot of visuals will greatly benefit the parent/teachers at teaching these essentials.
Self-Advocacy: Children with special needs especially girls can be easy prey for all forms of abuse and bullying. The importance of teaching them about standing up for themselves cannot be overemphasized. A child who can self-advocate will stop or run from or report when they are being abused in any way. Children should be taught the parts of the body, social appropriate and acceptable language and touch and vice versa. Knowing this will help them recognize abuse situations and know what to do. Social stories is an excellent way of teaching this.
Children should also be taught about and know their rights. Being armed with such information will make advocating for themselves easier and can open doors of opportunity in employment and other social benefits that they should enjoy as citizens.
Working towards independence must be the priority of every caregiver and must be done with deliberate effort and followed through with all children but most especially those with special needs. “Autism (and other disabilities) doesn’t come with a manual; it comes with a parent who will never give up”