Gaining independence means mental maturation, separation from parents, moving out on your own and mastering various life skills. Independence also means taking responsibility for your choices and decisions and strengthening your agency.
Gaining independence and moving out on your own are major life changes. Dreaming of the future and your own home is important. However, independence also comes with a variety of thoughts and questions about how you will manage, how you will cope with the greater responsibility and what support you have available.
Young people with ASD often achieve independence later than their peers, and separating from their childhood home can be more challenging compared to their peers. Gaining independence should therefore always be planned individually, based on individual readiness and skills and the most suitable timing. It is worth remembering that you do not have to move out on your own even if your peers are already living on their own.
“Living independently comes with many challenges, but sometimes it can also provide a solution to numerous other challenges. In your own home, it is easier to create an environment that stresses you as little as possible – you get to choose the colours, materials and order of the furniture so that they are exactly how you want them to be. When you have a place you can escape to when the sensory flood of the world feels overwhelming, it also feels easier to go outside it.”
There are many reasons for moving out. Sometimes moving out of your childhood home can occur suddenly with no time to plan ahead, for example when you choose a field of study and receive a study place. It may be that you have applied for a study place in the same place where you live with plans to continue living in your childhood home, but you may receive a study place further away. In this case, you will need to move to a new place and consider various housing options.
Anticipation can also be more difficult if your wishes are unclear and plans incomplete. Plans can also change from what they were originally. During joint application in the spring and at the end of comprehensive school, you are still very young and your knowledge of different professions can be superficial or even based on false impressions. However, you need to make big decisions: do I go to upper secondary school or vocational school and what field would be suitable for me and interest me?
Even when you plan ahead, moving out for the first time is a big step in the life of a young person. Independent living comes with a lot of responsibility: you need to take care of the apartment, pay your rent on time and make sure you pay for electricity and water and your internet connection.
When moving out, you often also have a long list of things you need to get: furniture, carpets, dishes, cleaning equipment and household appliances. The section entitled Exercises to support everyday life on this website suggests concrete ways to manage your time, daily routines and money. In addition, the ABCs of housing of the Youth Housing Association and the Moving House Checklist of the Martha Organization contain important tips and checklists for people moving to a home of their own for the first time.
When you are planning to get your own apartment, you should first think about the criteria you have for an apartment. What is a suitable location, what size should the apartment be and what kind of apartment can you afford? You should start looking for an apartment well in advance, because the demand for apartments is high in the summer before schools start.
The Omaan kotiin guide of the Youth Housing Association (in Finnish) is helpful in the challenges of housing and everyday life. The guide contains information on where to look for an apartment, how to make a change of address notification and what assistance you can receive for housing and living. The chapters of the guide can be used as checklists in the transitions of housing and the guide is also worth reading when you are still in the process of planning your independent life and moving to your first own apartment.
Gaining independence and living independently require a variety of skills. That is why it is important to practice living and life management skills to try to make sure that independent living will be a success.
Important life skills for living independently:
- Well-being and health – such as, circadian rhythm and time management, regular meals, getting enough sleep and rest, stress management skills, exercise
- Social skills, relationships and dating
- Household management skills – cooking, cleaning and laundry
- Skills to manage personal matters and use services and civic skills
- Financial management and spending
- The internet and media
- Substances and addictions
You should start planning the new life situation and the upcoming change as early as possible, preferably a few years before you start becoming independent. Practising the essential skills in authentic, familiar settings and at your own pace helps you prepare for the change. You can also improve your life management skills by strengthening your executive functioning, sensory and emotional regulation and social skills. It is important to make sure that your life management skills are adequate and you have the strategies you need to, e.g., structure your life and anticipate things in your new phase of life.
“When it comes to new things, the best help for me is that I am told how something should be done or we practise it together so that I learn to do it independently.”
The gap between daily performance and cognitive ability is often substantially large in people with ASD. This presents challenges to coping with everyday life, because chores, such as doing the shopping or keeping the home tidy, may require a lot of effort. Having an uneven ability profile also makes it more difficult to identify your needs for support and may stand in the way of arranging the right kind of support.
You do not need to try to cope on your own! Intensive support, particularly from family and friends, is often necessary when gaining independence. Individual support and services, various therapies and forms of rehabilitation can also help in crucial ways. You should seek help and support early enough.
Housing and housing services
Independence means you need to think about the housing option that suits you best. Learning more about different housing options, clarifying your wishes and identifying your needs for support will help you advance your plans. Housing and the related support services should always be tailored to individual needs.
Available housing services:
- Residential practice or independent living practice where you practise the skills and readiness you need in everyday life. The skills that are practised include cooking, household management, finances, the circadian rhythm, taking care of yourself, social interaction and engaging in activities outside the home. Residential practice helps you find a suitable form of housing and supports you in the upcoming change as you transition to live in your own home.
- Supported accommodation in your own apartment with the help of personal assistance or other services that support housing.
- Supervised or assisted housing in a residential home, a group home or an assisted living facility with help and support available either daily or 24/7.