Things I wish someone had told me before my child with a disability graduated high school

There’s no denying that the transition from school to whatever comes after can be challenging. However, challenging as it may be, it’s also a great opportunity for freedom and independence. Hearteningly, studies have found that young people who had left school had a better quality of life than those still at school.

We spoke to a lot of parents of people with intellectual disability, and put together their tips for navigating that tricky year after high school. Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Even if it feels too hard, try and start preparing as soon as you can.”

It’s already a hectic time, but it really does pay to be prepared. It’s natural to want to put the plans for after graduation in the ‘too hard basket’.

In all your spare time, try to come up with a life plan with your son or daughter – think about what they like or dislike, the activities they like doing at school, re-read school reports, and ask people around you especially teachers, friends and family members…I promise you, they’ll all have an opinion. Bear in mind though, that the most important opinion is your son or daughters!

As you know, thinking about the future will only help you with your NDIS plan (sometimes for the first time).

We know it’s hard and to add that your loved one is becoming an adult makes it even harder. It can be overwhelming, but if you can start doing research and making plans, it often pays off in the long run. 

2. “Routine, routine, routine!”

Chances are if you have someone in your family who has an intellectual disability, you’ve probably got a pretty solid routine down already. Once school is over, that routine is most likely going to change significantly, and this can be very overwhelming for lots of families.

Maybe in the final year of high school, you could start trying out some of the services that you think might be good after they graduate? Most service providers are open to this.

This way, when it comes time to change up the routine, it’s not a great leap in to the unknown.

3. “Goals first, NDIS second”

The NDIS exists to help people achieve their individual goals, not the other way around.

In other words, the best thing you can do is get your goals sorted first, and see how the NDIS can help you achieve them. (If you want some help with this, make sure you check out our blog on goal setting).

We often find that the people who have an idea of what their goals are have more success with the NDIS.

For example: Tom loves flowers and his goal is to start up his own floristry micro business, delivering fresh flowers to local businesses. He and his family speak to the NDIS about how they see this happening and what kind of support Tom might need. The NDIS, knowing this, would be able to give him what he needs than if they had gone in and just said that “Tom’s goal is to get a job”.

4. “Don’t be afraid to try things out”

Exploring your options is a plan in itself! Regardless of whether you have a disability or not, that year after high school is always a good time to try out some new and different things before you settle on a single path.

Don’t be scared to call up providers and see if you can come and try their services. It is often the best way to get an idea of what you like and what you don’t.

5. “There will be some big changes, but they won’t all be bad”

It’s a huge and challenging time, but it’s also a really exciting and rewarding one for a lot of people.

It’s easy to get swept up in the endless to-do lists and anxieties that manifest before any big life change, but it’s important to enjoy and celebrate all the fun, rewarding and empowering opportunities along the way too – of which there will be many.

6. “Your relationship will change, but that’s a beautiful thing.”

There’s no denying it - your child is no longer a child. They are rapidly becoming an adult. While the nature of their disability might mean that they still need extra support, your relationship will still naturally change, and this can be a great thing as it often means they are becoming more independent and empowered. It’s a sign of a job well done for you!

The NDIS will no doubt be life-changing for your daughter or son, but it will also most likely have an impact on you, too. Like any parent of an adult, you might find that you naturally take a step back in caring duties, but a step forward in building an adult friendship.

7. “Friendships are more important than ever”

After school, friendships can be harder to maintain. You no longer automatically see your peers every day, and as a result, the loneliness can quickly creep in.

A little bit of work maintaining old friendships and making new ones goes a long way in this time.

If you speak to the NDIS about your plans, you might get some funding for social and community participation.

8. “You are not alone”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, excited, confused, and scared, you are far from being alone! This is a really intense time in a parent’s life and many parents are going through similar things to you.

A bit of advice we hear from parents is it’s a really good time to reach out and lean on your support network.

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