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Autism is a lifelong disability. There is no “cure,” but there are many strategies, programs and interventions that can significantly improve the areas of functioning and enable a person with autism to lead a successful, fulfilling life.
Children with autism can be taught to speak, to learn, to communicate, to participate socially, but all of these skills need refinement and upgrading as we progress through life. Social skills that are appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers look pretty silly in middle school! Issues that are not important in preschool are significant in the real world of independent living. It is important for parents, caregivers and professionals to always be looking ahead as well. Where do we want our child to be in six months, a year, five years, ten years, or when I’m no longer around to provide care?
Formal Life Mapping programs put together a group of people around the person with autism – parents, family, other caregivers, therapists, teachers, community members, and to the extent possible, the person with autism. This group then looks at the current abilities and challenges facing the individual and discusses visions for the future. Then, the group “maps out” the direction to get to that future. It is a formal process that can be very helpful for many families, but can also be done more informally. The basic philosophy is that if you don’t know where you are going, you won’t ever get there!
For example, if the ultimate goal for a child is independent living, it is important to understand that person’s abilities and challenges relating to activities of daily life. Taking the example further, will this person learn to drive or is learning to take public transportation or riding a bike a more appropriate goal? As parents and family members who love someone with autism, we need to keep our expectations both high and yet appropriate. Life mapping is a method of continually adjusting expectations to ability and also of involving a group of people in your child’s success throughout life.