See the Able, Do Not Enable: For Parents Considering Post-secondary Support Programs

Being a parent/caregiver of an individual with autism or any learning difference can be an emotional roller coaster. 


You have mastered the art of communicating the needs for your young adult, advocating for the rights, accommodations and/or modifications your child deserves, and you will do whatever it takes to ensure that your student receives the proper respect and representation.


At College Internship Program (CIP) we strive to offer support services for young adults on the autism spectrum, with ADHD and other learning differences as they transition to college, employment, and independent living, so that they can live happy and productive lives. 


In our Life Skills Department, we do our best to teach students how to live independently through a comprehensive program dedicated to facilitating their abilities to learn how to cook, clean, communicate effectively with a roommate, identify boundaries, and build executive functioning skills to maintain their ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living).  


In order to encourage independence, it is important for CIP to take the baton from parents/caregivers and take the role of student advocate. Our staff works diligently to gain the trust and respect of the student to ensure a positive and progressive relationship; doing so creates a healthy work dynamic between staff and these young adults. 


While students are acclimating to CIP, staff identifies their strengths and challenges. Each challenge is aided with a SMART goal and weekly assessment. These goals are created by the student with staff and are worked towards each week. Examples of goals include independently researching a recipe to meal prep, or simply cleaning off countertops. Staff is able to observe each student's competence to complete the task and recognizes when a student wants support versus requires support.


It is not uncommon for students to demonstrate a level of competence and completion of their goal and suddenly not be able to perform when caregivers come to visit. For example, situations have occurred where students continue to rely on their caregivers and call them to visit. Upon visiting, caregivers feel obligated to stock the refrigerator and shelves with groceries or clean their apartments or do their laundry. We realize parents and caregivers want to continue demonstrating their love and support through these gestures, but the more opportunities our students have to execute these skills without parental/caregiver support, the faster the skills will be developed and applied. 


If you are sending your student to CIP, or a similar post-secondary support program, here are some ways to ensure you are not enabling your student, but recognizing their potential and trusting their capability as an independent adult.



  • Your student is an adult. Recognize when they call for immediate assistance and ask yourself, is this a teachable moment? 
    • Ask your student if they are experiencing an emergency.
    • Redirect your student to staff or to the emergency phone number stored in their phone and also posted in their apartment.
    • Struggling to find their answers and solve their problems over the phone only create anxiety and stress for both you and the student.

Make Alterations

  • To let go is not to enable; rather, it allows learning to come from natural consequences. Rather than finding your students solutions, try to be supportive and allow them to problem solve.
    • Encourage your student to find their own answers. Instead of providing suggestions, ask questions regarding their situation.
      • Why do you think that happened?
      • What can you do right now instead?
      • Have you referred to your States of Regulation?
      • What are some of your coping strategies you have been practicing?

Learn How to Adapt with Your Student

  • Being flexible and learning how to change your expectations and standards is typically the hardest thing for anyone to do. While your student is learning this skill, it is important to be a role model.
    • Reframe the issue and redefine success and perfection.
      • Everyone learns differently and success is defined differently for each individual. A student on the spectrum or an individual with a learning difference is the epitome of someone who is on their own time frame.
      • To let go is to not compare the progress of your student with the progress of someone else’s student.
      • Create a mantra and recite it to your students when they call in distress.
        • For example:  “You can do this, I know you can”

A Little Avoidance Can Be Healthy

  • What would happen if you missed your student’s call? Allowing your student to reach out to staff (who is closer to get in contact with) when in distress can build trust and reliability between staff and student. While some avoidance can be healthy, some things cannot be overlooked. However, not being available for your student when they need help with cleaning a stain may be ok.
    • It is ok to say no. You have responsibilities and your student is learning how to manage their own responsibilities.
    • It is ok to ask your student, “Have you contacted staff?”

About the Author: Kayla Cherry

Kayla Cherry is the Life Skills & Wellness Coordinator at CIP. She graduated from California State University, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communicative Disorders for Speech Language Pathology. Kayla is passionate about advocating for individuals with disabilities and ensuring their accommodations or modifications are met.