Becoming a full-fledged adult is hard enough when facing identity formation, independence, and intimacy challenges. Beyond these typical developmental tasks, many young people are experiencing complicating factors such as physical disabilities or a wide range of mental and emotional challenges such as learning disabilities, ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Although these conditions make adulthood difficult, every young person wants to increase their level of independence while maintaining a positive relationship with their parents. Without addressing every issue, I would offer some guidelines.
A Starting Point
As described in previous blogs, parents need to ask three questions when deciding or taking an action that will affect their young adult son or daughter. These are:
- Am I acting in love and the child’s best interest versus anger, resentment, guilt, or what might make me feel better?
- Am I acting according to my principles – honesty, responsibility, fairness, keeping promises, etc.?
- Am I acting in a way that will support greater independence or dependence?
Parental Factors to Consider
- First, it’s essential to reinforce parents’ unconditional love for the child. Feeling a sense of secure attachment is critical to their moving forward.
- Second, address any emotions or thoughts you may have that may impair your ability to support and let go of your young adult. Fears, guilt, remorse, sadness, and a sense of failure can interfere with the normal letting go process.
- Third, we must accept our limitations. We can’t control or fix our young adults. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that we have limitations in supporting and influencing these special needs children. We can only do so much.
- Fourth, with the help of professionals, parents need to determine what type of support is necessary, possible, and required of the parents. The decisions we make must consider the resources parents have, emotional, psychological, and financial. Some parents may have the most difficult decision to seek residential resources such as a group home because the parents cannot provide the necessary care.
Adult Children’s Factors to Consider
- First, parents need the help of professionals to determine the needs of the young adult and the available services. Once you know how limiting the special needs are toward independence and what services match these needs, parents can decide on the best fit.
- Second, parents must both accept the young adult’s educational and vocational capabilities and allow for some stretch. In my experience, parents of special needs young adults hesitate to challenge or stretch the young adult.
- Third, it’s essential to lift up any unique traits or skills that the young adult demonstrates so their identity incorporates those that exist despite limitations. Amplify strengths and highlight behaviors or skills that show a greater competence than they may see in themselves. I have one autistic young adult who puts together complicated Lego models consisting of thousands of pieces. He’s also an expert at puzzles and readily sees the fit of pieces others don’t see. This is a skill I don’t have.
- Fourth, don’t take it personally when the young adult may exhibit frustration or lash out since they struggle with wanting independence, but know they are still dependent on their parents.
Community Resources to Consider
- First, these special needs adults can often benefit from a trusted therapist who believes in their potential and is willing to stick with them and challenge their growth potential. You can usually identify these professionals through the various disability associations.
- Second, parents need to avail themselves of the support of the States Vocational Disability resources. Typically, when these young adults meet the state’s criteria, they get career assessment, placement in jobs, and job coaching once on the job. There are services in the community that can prepare a special needs young adult to take the driving test. Courage Center in the Twin Cities offers such a service. Often, parents can be too anxious observing their son or daughter driving from the passenger seat.
- Third, there are volunteer associations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the Autistic Society of Minnesota.
- Fourth, as I have recommended in an earlier blog, create opportunities for these young adults to get out in society – community classes such as art or cooking, community activities sponsored by churches, the YMCA, or other organizations.
- Finally, pull them into volunteer activity if they can’t obtain a job. Nothing makes a person feel better and more valued and significant than helping someone else. These volunteer services welcome a warm body to help; the people you meet are kind and caring. The risk of rejection is quite low. Pulling them along may take some help, but it could be an enjoyable connection with your young adult outside the home.
In the end, each parent needs to understand the capabilities of their young adult, their ability to respond, and the necessary resources of the community with whom to partner. You may feel alone, but know you are not, and seek out other parents with similar challenges online or in the community. These understanding friends can help you find the strength you need to be the parent you desire.
- A Letter from A Grieving Mother - November 14, 2023
- Book Recommendation: Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict - November 13, 2023
- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023