Neurodiverse Parenting Beyond Age 18

Some parents expect to raise their kids for 18 years and be done. Other parents have kids with significant disabilities who will need their parents all their lives. But there is a third group too, those of us with neurodiverse kids who need a little more support and time to find their wings. 

For myself, this stage of parenting has proven harder than most. I think it is because my parents were in the first camp I named. At age 18 they expected me to be in charge of my own life. They were supportive, but the expectation I would go off to college and then lead my own life was strong. So, that was what I did. 

Instead of telling you exactly how we have navigated this early adulthood stage for just my kid, I’m going to share a few different ways I have seen families adjust to having a high school graduate who isn’t quite ready for life on their own. 

Community College

One option is to send your student to community college while they live at home. The advantage of this is that they can adjust to college without having to also learn to function away from home. Depending on your student’s financial aid situation, they may also be able to start college taking only 2-3 classes at first. This can be ideal for students who struggled with heavier workloads or had trouble keeping up in high school.  If you will be paying out of pocket for classes by the hour, it may also make college more affordable to take this path.  However, if your student has a financial aid package, they may need to take a minimum number of course hours to qualify for the grants and loans they are offered. 

If your student does need to start attending full-time, but you are concerned about their readiness, you can help them choose their classes wisely.  Use the website RateMyProfessor.com to investigate professors and find ones with good scores. Classes like Freshman English often have multiple sections and choosing the right one can make the semester much easier. Some college professors are understanding about learning disabilities and others are not, so choosing carefully can ensure a professor who is more likely to work with your student.  Your student can also balance their course load by taking a couple of challenging classes and a couple that are easier. Easier classes are either easier because they are designed by the college to be easy, “Music Appreciation” comes to mind as a class that many colleges offer as a fine arts course that is not challenging at all. Or your student may find certain classes to be easier because they are in areas that they have studied before.  

One of the best things about starting at community college is that the more affordable price makes it easier to be okay that your student may need more time than is typical to complete their degree. 

Gap Year

I know other parents with neurodiverse teens who allowed their teens to take a gap year. This year could be devoted to learning job and life skills through working or doing an internship. They could also explore their own interests or experiment with learning skills at their own pace, away from the concerns of what “counts” as school.  Even if that step does not result in learning a trade, having the extra time to grow up and experience a taste of the adult world is a good thing and can prepare them for the next phase of life. 

Trade School

These particular students also had this gap year to get organized to be able to attend trade school. While some students are ready to start a new adventure the day after high school ends, some need a bit of time. For these students, working on their applications to trade school while not also trying to complete high school is helpful. It allows more time to truly consider the schools, take tours, explore options, and make a decision that has less pressure because you removed the deadline. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any deadlines, but if your student isn’t trying to start ASAP after high school, they have more time to prepare their application and get ready to start this new phase. 

If your student is not actually ready for any of these options, you may find that you need to homeschool for a few more years. Some parents may find themselves telling the state that their 18-year-old has graduated, while they continue teaching them at home. There are lots of reasons that your student could have struggled in high school and not be ready for the next phase of their life just yet. This doesn’t mean that they will never get there, but that they need more time. Hopefully, if your student is in this category, you are able to continue their education until they have the skills they need to move on to the next phase of their lives. 

Neurodiverse Brains Keep Growing

The thing is, neurodiverse folks continue to experience brain growth far beyond age 18. Just because they are not ready at 18 to do certain skills, that doesn’t mean they won’t get there. I have often written about how skills like reading, writing, and math are dependent on brain development. The student who struggled with those things for all of K-12, may discover that those skills get easier the further into adulthood they go. 

So, if you have a child who is not ready to leave the nest at 18, don’t give up. They may just need a little more time. 

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About the Author

nimble_asset_Laura-in-floral-shirt-with-treesLaura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator, and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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