Preparation for Independence—Is Your Student Ready for a New School Year?

Christy Oslund, Co-ordinator of Student Disability Services in the Dean of the Students’ Office at Michigan Technological University, shares helpful tips for parents on preparing students for a new school year and future independence.

Preparation for Independence

As students gear up for another year of school—perhaps even their last year or two before heading off to college or other independent goals—families tend to get caught up in last minute preparations. Do they have adequate school supplies, is it time to buy a scientific calculator, what will the schedule look like for classes and for after school activities? It is easy to get buried in details.

We need to remind ourselves to step back and remember the big picture. We need to help our students be prepared not just for the immediate school term but for the future when they will be required to live more independently. Consider the following questions:

  • Is my child able to take their medication reliably without reminders?
  • Does my child know how to wash their own laundry?
  • Could my child go shopping alone and find their own basic necessities?
  • Have we practiced the child getting up and ready for school without assistance/wake-up calls?
  • Has my child learned to shop for and cook a few simple meals?
  • Can my child wash up after preparing a meal?

Until a person has had the opportunity to practice all these steps towards independence, he or she is not really ready for life away from home, whether that be in a trade school, college, university, or first job. Particularly with high functioning children who are very smart, we can easily forget how important these other day to day life skills are for the young person to grow into a successful adult. Rather than trying to take on teaching all of these skills at once, consider working on them one at a time. It will depend on your child which of these steps will come easiest and which will require the most work.

Consider starting with the step that is likely to be the least difficult for the individual child you are working with, so that your student can build on success as they approach the next goal. If for example, your child is naturally starting to get up in the morning for school, allow that to become an independent activity where he or she is responsible for getting out of the home on time. Realize that this may mean that your child will be late a few times; this is the price that has to be paid in helping your student work towards independence. Once your child leaves home, there will not be anyone getting them out the door on time and this is a skill that is best learned before they are expected to act like an adult.

On the other hand, if your child has shown an interest in cooking, help them identify a few simple meals they would like to cook. Take them shopping and walk them through the process of choosing ingredients for the meal, paying, taking home the shopping, and preparation. For young people who find that process very involved, you may want to make clean up after the meal a separate lesson and learning opportunity.

Remember that almost everyone finds the most effective way to learn is to be given a chance for practice, with necessary explanation/information being provided by someone who has more experience with the skill being learned. If one wants to learn to milk a cow, one would look for a dairy farmer who has experience with milking; if one wants to learn to cook a meal, it helps if the person teaching has cooked before.

At the same time, parents and guardians can show the willingness to learn new skills themselves. If no one in the home is practiced at cooking a meal then helping the child prepare by learning this skill together—perhaps in a basic cooking class, or from a beginners cook book—demonstrates that learning new skills is always possible, and often necessary, no matter what stage we are at in life. By learning side by side with your child, you can demonstrate how to solve problems along the way:

  • How will we prepare for shopping?
  • How do we choose ingredients?
  • How do we decide which pan to use?
  • How can we tell if the heat we are using is too hot or not hot enough?

When more mature family members demonstrate how to solve problems as they are encountered, they also set another example that the child can learn from and call on later in life.

A new school year is an exciting, anxiety producing time of year. It is also a reminder that a child is continuing to grow towards eventual independence. Being mindful to include education and practice with the life skills needed outside of school is just as important as helping a child academically prepare for their future. Just as we wouldn’t expect a child to spontaneously start reading without previous education just because they have left home, we cannot expect them to suddenly know other life skills such as cooking, or getting up without reminders, just because they’ve moved. Use each day to practice these steps towards independence and you can ensure that your child has all the skills necessary to be successful.

Christy is the author of  Succeeding as a Student in the STEM Fields with an Invisible Disability: A College Handbook for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Students with Autism, ADD, Affective Disorders, or Learning Difficulties and their Families and the forthcoming  Supporting College and University Students with Invisible Disabilities: A Guide for Faculty and Staff Working with Students with Autism, AD/HD, Language Processing Disorders, Anxiety, and Mental Illness both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Common Interview Questions and What They Mean – from The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome

In this extract from The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome, career development coach and author Barbara Bissonnette translates some common interview questions to help literal thinkers understand what is actually being asked of them.

To answer a question well, you must understand what is being asked. This may not be readily apparent if you are a literal thinker. Josh was completely confused when he was asked, “Why should I hire you instead of the other candidates?” After thinking about it for a few seconds, he said, “I don’t know how to answer that, because I haven’t met the other candidates.” The interviewer knew that Josh had not met the other applicants. The intent of his question was for Josh to summarize why he believed that he was the best person for the job.

There are several types of interview questions. Some assess your abilities, depth of experience, and knowledge of a job function or an industry. Others are designed to tease out how well you work with others. Behavioral questions look at past actions as indicators of future performance. They typically begin with a statement like, “tell me about a time when,” or, “give me an example of,” or, “describe a project that…”

Here are some common interview questions, and suggestions about how to answer them. Even if you are not asked all of these questions specifically, you can use the information to respond to similar inquiries about your background, hard skills and soft skills.

1. Tell Me About Yourself

Translation: Summarize your relevant skills and experience.

This question is often asked early in an interview. It is not an invitation to share your life story. A good answer summarizes, in five to six sentences, the skills and experience that make you a good fit for the job. Mention your most relevant general and job-specific skills, as well as personal characteristics that are important for the position. An accountant could summarize experience in basic accounting principles, discuss proficiency with computer spreadsheets, and give examples of accuracy and attention to detail.

A bit of humor, if you are comfortable using it, can relieve nervousness and get the interview off to a good start. Accountant Todd could say, “I’m a numbers geek!” But don’t overdo the levity. One or two bits of humor per interview is enough. You want to project friendliness, not goofiness. You are not interviewing to be a company comedian.

Avoid long, rambling responses that contain irrelevant details: where you grew up, a list of classes you took to earn your degree, or your recent divorce. Don’t mention achievements from high school and earlier, unless they are truly significant. Earning the designation of Eagle Scout, for example, requires personal characteristics that include persistence, leadership, and teamwork. These are valuable in any job.

2. Why Did You Choose This Field?

Translation: What excites you about this work or this industry?

A strong response highlights aptitudes and abilities that are related to the job in question. For example, “Engineering appeals to me because I enjoy applying mathematical principles to solve real-world problems. During college, I did a project…”

A weak response focuses on your personal preferences instead of what you can do for the employer, “I like computers,” “There are lots of jobs,” or, “It pays well.”

3. What Are Your Greatest Strengths?

Translation: What makes you good at this work? (Be ready with three examples.)

It is not boastful to discuss your abilities and accomplishments at a job interview. This is your chance to describe knowledge and personal attributes that enable you to achieve results for the organization. Choose strong points that demonstrate your ability to perform the job well. An engineer might say, “I can form detailed pictures in my mind and see how design changes will impact product performance.”

Empty, self-serving answers are those that offer no benefit to the employer, “I’m a fantastic writer,” “I’m a genius at math,” or, “I live to write code!”

4. What is Your Greatest Weakness?

Translation: Do you have insight into your limitations and have you learned from your mistakes?

This is a tricky question. Everyone has weaknesses of some kind, so saying that you don’t have any is clearly not true. On the other hand, being too honest can disqualify you as a candidate. Think about a weakness that is also a strength, or a limitation that you have overcome. Aaron said, “I can be a perfectionist, however this has helped me in accounting because my work is accurate. And, it is always delivered on time.” This answer works because accuracy is important in this line of work, and Aaron added a sentence to let the employer know that his thoroughness would not get in the way of meeting deadlines.

Unacceptable responses are those that communicate a fatal flaw. This refers to an attribute that makes you unqualified for the position. Describing yourself as introverted and a little shy at first would be a fatal flaw for a salesperson, who meets with new prospects. It would not be a fatal flaw for someone, like an accountant, who works mostly with information. Some answers are fatal flaws for any job. Fatal flaw answers include, “I’m not a team player,” “My selfconfidence is low,” and, “I don’t like taking the ideas or direction of others.”

5. Describe Your Worst Boss

Translation: What type of manager have you disliked working with (and am I that type of manager)?

This question is not as simple as it may first sound. I’ll begin with the wrong answer, since it is the one so many of my clients choose. Rob is a good example. I could hear his agitation as he began describing a former manager. “He wouldn’t give me clear instructions, and then blamed me for everything that went wrong,” Rob began. “Once I asked to take a Friday off before a holiday weekend. He was so mean, he said no, but then let one of the other associates take Friday off.”

I’ll bet that you, like Rob, have a story or two about an unreasonable, jerky boss. However, sharing these anecdotes at an interview makes you look bad. Blaming problems on someone else, or making negative judgments about a person’s character, makes you sound like a complainer, and an employee who is difficult to work with. Companies do not want employees who are difficult. Avoid comments like, “He didn’t listen to me,” “She criticized my work,” and, “He was disrespectful and yelled a lot.”

When a hiring manager asks this question, he wants to know whether you will be comfortable with his management style. A manager who gives staff members a lot of autonomy would be concerned if you describe this style as difficult. Obviously, you cannot know a manager’s preferences in advance. If your styles are different to the point of incompatibility, it really means the job is not the right fit, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to get hired.

The right response to this question focuses on professional (not personal) characteristics, and frames negatives as differences in preference or style. For example, “My last supervisor preferred group brainstorming sessions. This was a challenge sometimes because I like to think about a problem on my own, then present my ideas to the group. We worked it out so I could contribute my ideas the next day.”

For more essential advice, tips and strategies for getting a job in the neurotypical workplace, buy your copy of The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome by Barbara Bissonnette.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.


“Cognitive flexibility is the hallmark of a productive, happy and healthy young adult with Aspergers Syndrome” – An Interview with Dr Michael McManmon

Dr. Michael P. McManmon is the founder of the College Internship Program (CIP) that serves college-aged students with learning differences and Asperger’s Syndrome in six centers across the U.S. CIP’s goal is to prepare young men and young women with skills for life, for work and for independent living. Dr. McManmon was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at fifty-one years of age. His personal struggles and ensuing victories and that of his students and staff have inspired this book. He lives in Massachusetts in the U.S.

Made for Good Purpose: What Every Parent Needs to Know to Help Their Adolescent with Asperger’s, High Functioning Autism or a Learning Difference Become an Independent Adult

What led you to found the College Internship Program (CIP), and how does it work?

I had worked for private and public group homes for younger and older children for about ten years and when I moved to Massachusetts, during the era of deinstitutionalization, I wanted to open a transitional apartment program for students coming out of residential schools and institutional programs. I read Wolfensburger’s Normalization Theory while studying for my Doctorate in Special Education and wanted to implement it in a community-based program where students could experience living in normal living conditions.

The College Internship Program opened in 1984 and is a community-based program with six sites around the U.S. We offer a comprehensive curriculum for students with Learning Differences and on the Spectrum. Students live in apartments and can attend college or be involved in career studies. They learn everything from banking and budgeting to apartment skills and executive functioning skills. They have instruction in social thinking, sensory diets, wellness, etc. both in individual sessions and modules at our centers.

Why do you think it has been so successful?

The program is individualized and encompasses all the main areas that students with learning differences would need to work on. We can create an individual program of services for each student and then move them to less intensive supports as they progress. Students are assessed and given the exact services that they need to succeed.

Can you talk a little bit about your personal connection to Aspergers Syndrome?

Initially, I was diagnosed in 2004 by our Academic Coordinator (who worked for me at our center in Massachusetts). This was after operating the center for more than fifteen years. It was near the time that we first had contact with Stephen Shore and invited him out for a day to share information. It also coincided with a visit we made to see Ami Klin who was at the Yale Child Study Center. Ami referred to us as one of the foremost College Programs for Aspergers and we left there quite mystified, as we knew only a little about Aspergers Syndrome at the time. After meeting with both Stephen and Ami and my staff diagnosing me, I became fascinated with reading about Aspergers and started to formulate a comprehensive curriculum for our program.

How did your diagnosis affect your life?

My diagnosis was a huge shift psychologically for me. I realized that the goofiest parts of my personality that I was trying through my life to hide were actually my best traits. I started to be myself and to learn about how to respond socially to others, use eye contact, work as part of a team, etc. My self-esteem rose as I learned to initiate, be reciprocal and succeed at working at my goals. I was workable with others and in community. My adult children had a Dad who was a human being and not just a Human Doer. Before diagnosis, I struggled to be able to operate one small center – after diagnosis, I am able to navigate the world, have six centers, and can maintain relationships.

I feel like a child let loose in a candy store. It seems to me that I can operate like a normal adult in any area I choose to participate. I know how to ask for help, to form alliances, and I am open to change and experiencing new things in my life. I would say I am very happy.

Can you tell us a bit about your book, Made for Good Purpose – what was your goal in writing it?

The goal in writing the book was to explain from the inside out the critical variables for parents and professionals to understand in dealing with young people on the spectrum. I have been told that I serve as some kind of “emotional translator” of sorts and it is almost like I have lived a double life and am able to interpret for them the important approaches to working with their sons and daughters.

The book was a labor of love and it illustrates through stories the relevant steps that need to be taken. The overriding message is that cognitive flexibility is the hallmark of a productive, happy and healthy young adult. All other growth is predicated upon being open to change and feedback and understanding who you are and accepting it.

Read a Preview of Made for Good Purpose »

Your book contains beautiful illustrations. When did you first start drawing, and how do you find time to do this?

I started drawing as a young child and was punished for it in second grade but persisted in it. In college, I wanted to transfer to art school after taking every art course I could at my college, but my father was not supportive. I buried my art when raising six children. After diagnosis my art became reinitiated and it transformed when I allowed myself to use color for the first time about five years ago.

I draw and paint everywhere I go and I am always completing several pictures at one time. I just force myself to whip out the watercolors and pad wherever I travel.

You also write beautiful poetry – when did you start?

I started writing in the seminary in High School and I still have my writings from that time. In college, I wrote many poems and they were published in our literary magazine. I wrote a lot on my job all night in a hospital during the summer and also when I lived in the slums of Washington D.C. after college. My poetry writing came mostly to a halt when raising my children and started to reshow itself in the last five years also.

What is your next big challenge?

My next big challenge is to start Visual and Performing Arts Centers and programs at each of our six centers around the U.S. I have created one at our center in Massachusetts where we have an art gallery (Good Purpose Art Gallery) and a theatre in an old church that we have renovated called the Spectrum Playhouse. These venues provide outlets for our students for their talents and integration with the surrounding artistic community. This is not a challenge but another work of love. My passions are all about this and I feel much joy and satisfaction from continuing to work on these projects.

Another project I have started is another book entitled The Assets of Aspergers. This book is a totally positive look at the wonderful traits of those on the spectrum and how they make life better for all of us.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Sarita Freedman on Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome

Dr. Sarita Freedman is a licensed psychologist and maintains a private practice in Calabasas, California, USA. Dr Freedman has over 30 years’ experience working with children, adults, and families, in both educational and clinical settings. She co-founded the Child Development Institute where she was Director of Special Needs Programs, and is also the founder of College on the Spectrum®, devoted to helping students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome succeed in college and in life.

Dr Freedman is the author of the new book, Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, with a Foreword by Tony Attwood. Here, she discusses the challenges young people with ASD face as students, and the benefits of planting the seed of educational success early in life.

When we witnessed the first “wave” of individuals diagnosed with some form of “high-functioning” autism spectrum disorder (ASD) around 1995, many of the individuals I diagnosed at that time were between 2-8 years of age. As time passed, these children came in and out of my practice and I became aware of several issues.

First, many students with ASD “fall through cracks,” especially when they’re bright and do not have behaviour problems. The ASD student who is more difficult to manage in the classroom is more likely to be identified and receive services.

Second, in order to qualify for special education services the student must demonstrate an “inability to access the curriculum.” Sometimes it can be difficult to prove that students need services. For example, while a fully verbal student may participate relatively well within the classroom setting, he frequently flounders on the playground due to social communication deficits. Developing better communication skills and having an adult present to facilitate social interactions on the playground could help this student improve his social communications skills, reduce his/her overall level of stress within the school environment, and be more accepted by his/her peers. However, supporting the need for speech and language therapy and/or an instructional aide for this student can be challenging because he functions “so well” in the classroom.

Third, the types of services offered to these students can be quite broad, and can include any, none, or all of the following: speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills, 1:1 instructional aide, special instructional assistance in subject areas, and/or placement in a special day class. Finally, the general education curriculum addresses a student’s academic skills, but not practical life skills. This leads to students who are unprepared for life after high school. While some students may be able to access other government-funded services after they reach the age of 18, others may not be eligible due to strict eligibility guidelines and/or funding shortages. In any case, waiting until the age of 18 to develop independent living skills (ILS) is probably too late for students who want to go away for college. Unfortunately, without specific programming ILS and many other skills will not come naturally to our students.

In Developing College Skills in Students with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, I outline skills in a developmental perspective so that parents and professionals can stimulate skill development throughout the child’s life. I also recommend ways to break through some of the road blocks that commonly occur. For example, it’s challenging for students with ASD to participate in “non-preferred” tasks. As such, parents of students who go away for college worry that their student will spend most of his time playing video games, rather than focusing on college studies. Sadly, the risk of this happening is quite high. However, students can learn strategies to manage and balance their time, provided the student receives adequate programming throughout his life.

I had the pleasure of interviewing several students and their parents while writing the book, and their insights and experiences helped inform some of the recommendations I made. A handful of these families recognised the importance of ensuring that their child learns practical life skills from very early on. Reinforcing these skills became an important piece not only of the child’s educational programming, but also a natural part of their family’s “culture.” All of those students are faring well in their post-secondary studies. One student in particular has completed his college education at UCLA, passed a professional licensing exam, and is working in his chosen field!

If we begin the process of preparing students for life when they’re very young, they’ll be more likely to independently manage themselves by the time they’re ready for college and will more likely have a positive experience there.

Visit for more about Sarita and her work.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010.