If your child has severe learning and attention issues, you may wonder if he’ll be able to live independently. With the right preparation, kids with more severe learning disabilities or ADHD can succeed at living alone. But before they move out, they have to be able to manage day-to-day tasks on their own.
Your child also needs to be emotionally ready to live alone. This means he has to be comfortable being away from your home for long periods at a time.
Here are key skills teens and young adults need before they move away from home and live independently.
1. Personal Care
Practicing good personal hygiene, such as taking showers and brushing teeth regularly.
Taking part in activities to stay physically fit, such as joining a community softball team or just taking a daily walk.
Understanding the dangers of smoking, drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex and abusive behaviors.
Knowing when to seek medical care and how and when to take medication.
Trouble with personal care can have a big impact on social and work relationships. That’s why it’s important to regularly involve your child in shopping for personal care items before he moves out. This can help him understand how much they cost and how often they need to be replaced. You can also encourage your child to keep a list of the personal care items he needs and where to buy them.
If your child takes medication, like ADHD medication, work with him to create a list of the medicine he uses and a calendar of the days and times he needs to take it. He’ll need to know how and where to refill medication, too. Practice calling his doctor and the local pharmacy to order what he needs. And make sure he understands the dangers of ADHD medication abuse. For instance, he’ll need to store medication in a spot that’s safe from others.
If your child wants to move out, he needs to know how to do laundry at home or at a laundromat. A good way to teach kids to care for their clothes is to break things down into steps.
If your child doesn’t know how to do laundry, practice at home. Create a list of the supplies he needs to do laundry. Then show him how to sort dirty clothes, wash them, and then fold and store them after they’ve been cleaned.
3. Money Management
Kids who live alone need to be able to manage a budget, pay bills and withdraw and deposit money. This may be especially difficult for kids who struggle with math.
Work together to make a list of expenses your child will have when living away from home. This includes rent, bills, food, medicine, personal items and recreational activities. Be sure to highlight the things your child has to pay for on a regular basis, so he can budget accordingly.
There are lots of apps that can help with money management and budgets. Search online or in the app store of your smartphone. Encourage your child to find an app he likes and practice with it before leaving home.
It’s also important to consider what financial arrangement works for you and your child. If you plan on sending an allowance, then you may want to send money every two weeks like a paycheck.
If he has a credit card, be sure to set a limit. Figure out what the consequences will be if he overspends, and make sure he’s aware of them.
Keep in mind that some kids with profound learning disabilities may need financial support for life. If this is the case with your child, read about long-term financial planning.
4. Food Preparation
The ability to prepare and store food safely is key to your child’s health. He’ll need to know how to plan meals in advance and how to shop for groceries. This includes buying items that will last a few days or longer. It also includes knowing which foods can’t be stored for very long. Your child needs to know to buy these items one at a time, so they don’t go to waste.
You may want to create a sample grocery list for your child. Talk about which items belong in a cabinet, and which go in the fridge or freezer. You can also practice cooking simple meals together.
5. Getting Around
Your child will have to know how to get around on his own. This means he needs to understand the time it takes to get someplace and the cost of the trip.
If he plans on using public transportation, have him practice taking the train or bus. Schedules can change, so he’ll need to know what to do if this happens.
If he drives, he’ll also need to understand directions. Talk about if he’ll use a GPS on his smartphone or other device. You may be able to pre-program addresses he visits often. He should also know when to fill his gas tank and how much gas costs. His budget should account for car care, too, such as repairs and oil changes.
If your child uses cabs to get around, he still needs to understand how much money the trip will cost, the amount of time it will take and how to tip. He also needs to be able to communicate where he’s going.
Living on your own means making purchases on a regular basis, in addition to groceries. Your child needs to understand which stores carry certain things. You can even note on a map specific stores near his home.
For example, if he wants to buy a shirt, he should know which clothing store to go to, his size and the approximate cost. He also needs to understand how to buy and store food.
Independent living is a serious decision. It’s important that you and your child both feel he’s ready to live on his own.
Read more about teaching money management to kids with learning and attention issues. Learn about careers for kids with learning and attention issues, including jobs for kids who don’t want to sit at a desk. And if your child is in high school and has an IEP, read how IEP transition planning can help him prepare for young adulthood.