I just took a really good special needs course, and it was suggested to have learning look like this: 25% academics which includes art and music first, then language and numeracy. 25% life skills which includes getting dressed, laundry, shopping, asking for directions, etc. 25% job skills taught as early as junior high, using of course, their interests as a guide (get creative, if he likes something, where can he use that?) and 25% volunteering and service in a community setting which allows for interaction and a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
I really appreciated the breakdown of the above in a pie chart with space for me to write examples and brainstorm. As far as math goes, look into Teaching Math to People with Down Syndrome and Other Hands on Learners. There are 2 books total, but you only need the first one for now. We also use Menu Math and Market Math to help with basic money skills.
I also appreciated the presenter saying to teach inter-dependance. We all depend on each other and we've wasted so many years reaching for "independence" when it doesn't really exist in today's culture. An adult with exceptional needs can survive with a debit card instead of cheques, a phone with pictures of mom and social worker on them, a system of support built up around them. So teach them to ask for help and let go of the independent illusion. *insert release of held-in breath, it is ok to be dependent*
I'm sure you are aware of PECS and visual schedules and all kinds of hands-on learning, but wanted to mention it again. Visual learning and hands on learning is often easier on this crowd.
For communication and language, Laureate Learning Systems has been a God-send. It is computer based, self-adjusting according to the child's ability, and most importantly, my son is learning, retaining and transferring what he has learned into other environments.
I have found it helpful to focus on his happiness first, then, because like you said, I don't want to limit my son, I do imagine what he could be like as an adult. I open my eyes more to opportunities to teach him things he will need to know. Some examples: safety signs on roads, how to cross the street, how to ask the owner to pet the dog, how to take turns at the park, how to make a sandwich, how to dial the phone, how to get a drink, how to turn off the tap, how to ask for help, etc. One of the most helpful things I have heard is to teach manners, because if your child can use a tissue and say excuse me, please, thank you, and hold open doors for people, everyone will take note and want to be with them when they're adults. That came as a golden nugget while overhearing two women talk about the special person who joined their weight loss group. They were simply delighted just because the person was so polite, and they both carried on about what a great job her mother did to teach her such manners.
I have also found it helpful to make use of executive function material, namely the book Learning the R.O.P.E.S for Improved Executive Function. My son has blown me away with what he can accomplish using those methods and printouts that come with the accompanying CD. In just a few months he has mastered many self-help skills, such as getting dressed in the morning, recalling the day's activities, and completing the bedtime routine. For a 12 year old, to finally be able to do these things independently (with mom or dad fading out as much as possible but still present) is pretty noteworthy!
As for the job skills and volunteering, take inventory of what you have at your disposal. Get creative. My son loves languages that have different fonts (arabic, chinese, hebrew, greek, etc.) and he loves playing with little kids and their toys. I have a preschool across my street in my church, so I've been toying with the idea of once a week going in to let my son write a word on their board in a different language. If they are studying colours he can write the word blue in a different language for them. So he would be using his love of languages to serve others, then he gets rewarded by playing with their toys for a few minutes. I'm still brainstorming, and perhaps us moms always will have to, but I do find it so rewarding to come up with neat ideas using their strengths.
Continue to expose him to outside sources of "undiscovered interest". Along the same lines as "strangers are friends you don't yet know", well, you never know what he will strike a fancy with. Take him everywhere (zoo, space centre where he can look at clouds through telescopes, science centre to handle all kinds of things, all field trips, all kinds of exposures, etc.) let him explore and take note of what holds his interests. There could be many more potential leads just around the corner!
Lastly, take care of you. Enjoy your relationship with him. Life is a sweet, sweet thing, and we are blessed mamas to get to enjoy such precious innocence for a longer time than most. :wub: