The transition to adulthood is a choppy time for many. Here are some ways to navigate this period when you’re autistic.
Whether you’re interested in continuing your education, diving into a career, or doing something else entirely, there are countless ways to thrive as an autistic adult.
Not all autistic people feel like their support needs interfere with their goals. But if you find that your social or behavior differences are causing you distress — or if your support needs aren’t being met — it’s possible to connect with resources and strategies that can help.
Autistic adults may have different support needs based on the level of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) they live with.
Someone who requires very substantial support, for example, may need help with day-to-day tasks. Meanwhile, autistic adults who don’t require as much support may prefer to manage their life on their own.
Still, many autistic adults live with co-occurring mental health conditions,
Autism is technically known as autism spectrum disorder. Since autism exists on a spectrum, you might require different levels of support based on how your symptoms present.
These “symptoms of autism” may be better defined as differences in:
- sensory processing
- social patterns and skills
- communication habits
- behavior patterns
Depending on the level of these differences and how much day-to-day support you require, you’ll likely find different resources to be helpful.
Some common behavior and communication patterns in autistic adults can include:
- lack of eye contact
- difficulty interpreting body language or facial expressions
- repetitive behaviors, known as stimming
- preference for lots of structure or guidelines
- sensory overload or lack of response to sensory stimulation
- difficulty entering into social interactions
- less interest in social interaction
- lack of body language
- body language that doesn’t match social norms
- difficulty with transitions or changes
- strong interest in specific subjects or objects
Some autistic adults may also engage in “masking” or “camouflaging” to fit social norms or hide repetitive behaviors. Masking and camouflaging can lead to
Some people may feel like these differences make everyday life challenging, while others do not. If you’re autistic and feel like these differences are a hurdle, many strategies, including talk therapy and support groups, can help.
According to a
- 47% said they were satisfied with their diagnosis experience.
- 40% said they weren’t satisfied with their diagnosis experience.
One theory for these high levels of dissatisfaction is a lack of understanding on the part of some healthcare professionals about how autism may present in adults.
If you’re autistic and don’t require high levels of support, it can be years before you get the right diagnosis — especially if you weren’t diagnosed in childhood, which is when many autistic people are.
A diagnosis can mean validation and access to resources and support. Getting an autism diagnosis can also:
- replace a misdiagnosis that doesn’t address your needs
- help you communicate your experience with others
- help you feel better understood by the people around you
Since autism is most often diagnosed in childhood, it can be more difficult to find a professional who diagnoses autism in adults. You might meet with several healthcare professionals before getting a diagnosis.
To get an autism diagnosis, a good first step is talking to your primary care doctor. Once you explain your symptoms and experience, they may refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorder in adults.
To make sure you get the right diagnosis, the healthcare professional may ask you questions about:
- your interests
- habits, behaviors, and routines
- your childhood
While there’s currently no standardized way to diagnose adults with autism, your clinician may use criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as guidelines for diagnosis.
Education is a personal choice for autistic people, the same as it is for anyone else. Different resources and options may be helpful based on your specific needs.
For example, an autistic adult who requires a significant amount of day-to-day support may need their parent or primary caregiver to help advocate for them and connect them with education and resources.
If you’re autistic and don’t need as much support, you might choose to enroll in college or enter the workforce as you transition to adulthood.
Here you’ll find some ideas for autistic adults and parents of autistic adults who are interested in pursuing education into adulthood.
For parents of an autistic person
If you’re parenting an autistic person who requires a high level of support, you may be used to advocating for their educational needs.
As your autistic child enters adulthood, it can help to remember that public schools are typically responsible for providing services to autistic people of up to 22 years old. After this, any other educational or employment opportunities will likely be organized by you.
It can help to start researching these opportunities early to get a head start on this process. Talking to other parents of autistic adults can also help you gather information and ideas about resources that may exist in your community.
One resource that could help you get started is this guide to academic success from the Autism Society.
For autistic adults
Autistic adults may choose to continue their education in a college program or opt for a completely different path. If you choose to attend college, it can help to learn what resources or accommodations are available to you as an autistic student.
Some common resources and accommodations could
- college transition programs
- extended time on exams
- working with an academic coach, counselor, or mentor
Not all autistic people experience difficulties in college. Those who do, though, have
- academic performance
- social relationships
- mental and physical health
If you’re dealing with challenges like these, there are resources out there to help. A good place to start may be you school’s student resource center.
If you need support for your mental or physical health, you might also reach out to a doctor or mental health professional. In some cases, your school’s student resource center can help you do this if you’re not sure where to start.
Data from 2015 and earlier suggest that about 58% of autistic people ages 21 to 25 have had some form of employment, compared to around 99% of their nonautistic peers.
Still, rates of employment for autistic people are low. Some
- ability to hyperfocus
- good attention to detail
- strong memory skills
While this is far from a complete list, focusing on strengths can help if you’re looking to start a career or enter the workforce. If you’re thinking about this next step, finding a job that lets you use your strengths and a job with people who are responsive to your needs can help.
Integrate Autism Employment Advisors is one resource to consider if you’re currently looking for work.
Many autistic adults live independently in their own home or apartment.
Other autistic adults live semi-independently — they might only need support in certain areas, such as communication with government agencies or paying bills. A professional agency, family member, or another type of helper might provide this support.
Some other common living situations for autistic adults include:
- Living at home. In some cases, government funds are available for autistic adults living at home. You can learn more about these programs on the Social Security Administration’s website.
- Foster homes and skill-development homes. Some families provide long-term care to autistic adults. Skill-development homes may also teach self-care and housekeeping skills as well as plan activities.
- Supervised group living. Group homes provide a structured environment for autistic adults. They can provide different levels of support based on each person’s needs.
- Long-term care facilities. These facilities usually benefit autistic adults who need a more intensive level of support and care.
If you’re an autistic adult, it can help to connect with support resources such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Roadmap to Transition or forums like Wrong Planet.
A support resource that fits your needs can help make your school, work, or home life more manageable.
If you think you might be autistic, getting a diagnosis can help you make yourself understood to others and connect you with support in areas of life that are helpful to you.
While barriers to education and employment still exist for some autistic people, there are many ways you can thrive in adulthood as an autistic person.