Cultivating the growth of adult qualities

The attributes needed to be a successful adult are often lacking in our atypical teens and young adults. Not only are the traits lacking, but many times there’s no sign of them even being ready to sprout forth. This leads to deep-rooted anguish for the individual and much pacing and wringing of hands for those on the sidelines.

What exactly are the adult attributes and behaviors we are waiting for, and how do we encourage them to grow? Are some strategies for encouraging their growth more effective than others?

This was the subject of a presentation I attended in 2014 at the LDA International Conference in Anaheim. The presenters were Jen Phillips and Char Reed of OPTIONS Transitions to Independence in Carbondale, IL. OPTIONS is a residential transition program for youth with “complex learning disabilities” (having a combination of brain-based challenges).

Jen and Char identified ten attributes or behaviors that provide a foundation for adulthood. The attributes are presented below, along with bulleted lists of strategies and tools employed by the OPTIONS staff to foster each attribute. (Most of the strategies listed refer to what the young person learns to do, but some refer to what the supportive adult does).

The staff had also polled students who were successfully finishing the OPTIONS program about which strategies they felt had been most effective. Those strategies are in bold blue.

What’s your reaction to these attributes and strategies?

Follow through with expectations and/or responsibilities. This will benefit the student in every arena of adult life.

  • Develop checklists
  • Use an assignment book or electronic planner
  • Break tasks into smaller segments
  • Identify resources (materials or people) that can help

Act and speak with honesty and integrity. Among other benefits, having these skills reinforces taking ownership for one’s actions.

  • Seize “teachable moments”
  • Rehearse or role play
  • Practice paraphrasing what was heard
  • Get assistance with problem solving
  • Use the communication model (“I feel ____ because I want or need ______”)
  • Reinforce desired behaviors

Develop and demonstrate interpersonal communication skills. Students are guided to move beyond the communication patterns of childhood.

  • Role play or rehearse
  • Pause to consider outcomes of response before responding
  • Use the communication model
  • Organize thoughts in writing before speaking
  • Paraphrase to reflect understanding and check perceptions
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Be aware of nonverbal cues; be ready to gracefully disengage or change the subject

Develop and implement organizational strategies. Organizing materials and personal space decreases distress and chaos in everyday life.

  • Set aside specific time for specific organizational tasks
  • Use check-sheets or charts
  • Use planner or electronic organizational tool
  • Break a large task into smaller parts; establish due dates and stick to them
  • Display pictures of desired outcomes (such as a neat desk)
  • Develop systems or routines, and use them consistently
  • Have a trusted person assist regularly in organizational tasks

Maintain good personal hygiene. Often, students don’t consider others’ perceptions of poor hygiene and what the consequences might be.

  • Hold the young person accountable for this; reinforce successful efforts
  • Be ready to break down tasks (such as how to shampoo) and teach them each step
  • Use checklists as reminders
  • Display pictures of desired outcomes as prompts and reinforcers
  • Assist with pre-planning for hygiene
  • Reinforce the importance of consistency

Develop and implement strategies to problem solve. Trying to solve problems is better than becoming overwhelmed by them and shutting down!

  • Identify the problem clearly and concisely
  • Rate the problem in terms of intensity and urgency
  • Identify available resources that can help solve the problem
  • Identify steps to take to solve the problem
  • Identify desired outcome
  • Evaluate the relative success of whatever actions were taken to solve the problem
  • Identify what needs to be done differently next time; adjust behaviors

Demonstrate respectful behavior. This includes managing emotions and delaying gratification.

  • Use the communication model
  • Role play or rehearse
  • Disengage from a situation, but set a time to re-engage
  • Prompt the student
  • Reinforce desired behaviors

Implement effective time management. Students eventually are able to meet time-related requirements on their own.

  • Use planner or electronic organizational tool
  • Break a large task into smaller parts; establish due dates and stick to them
  • Use a watch or electronic devise with auditory and/or visual reminders
  • Post a schedule or calendar
  • Use check-sheets or charts
  • Provide prompts, encouragement and reinforcement
  • Develop a system or routine and implement consistently [this wasn’t in the original list of strategies]

Demonstrate safe behaviors. This includes use of medication, personal health, community access, transportation, alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity.

  • Demonstrate safe behavior repeatedly; rehearse and reinforce  (don’t assume the student has internalized the message until s/he consistently demonstrates safe choices)
  • Use check-sheets
  • Provide prompts and encouragement
  • Participate in training or education[this wasn’t in the original list, but is related to the first bullet point]

Take ownership for the consequences of actions. Expect and accept the consequences for one’s actions.

  • Match consequences with actions
  • Use the communication model
  • Assist student with the steps in solving a problem – [see above]
  • Rehearse how the situation could be dealt with in the future; identify resources

(You can also see much of the same information by following this link to the Prezi presentation the presenters prepared.)

From these lists, it seems that checklists, role playing, and using the communication model were in general not seen by the students as effective teaching strategies. The students did seem to gain from using planners, breaking processes down into smaller pieces, and getting help or prompts from a trusted adult.

The handout from the presentation notes that in order to help the attributes grow, the adults in the student’s life need resolve, consistency, effective communication, and patience. It’s important that all of the adults are on the same page (I say: good luck with that! But at least it’s a goal to strive for). The young person’s successes must be recognized and confirmed.

Adult life skills may not automatically appear in atypical young people, but acquiring those skills is at least equally important to the focus we place on getting a job or a degree. Although fostering their growth is a tall order, without proper cultivation the traits may wither at the seedling stage. Once these skills develop, the individual’s transition to adulthood will be smoother – and that in turn increases the chance of success in job seeking, higher education, and life in general.


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About janet565

I've lived in the Inland Empire of Southern California since 1982. My profession involves maps and geography. I hope you find the blog useful, and wish you well....

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