Transitioning to adulthood

The support for autistic adults can be very minimal, if non-existent, and it can be a shock to the system when you’ve come from a school full of support. Losing your one-to-one, the teachers who know your needs or even school if it was a safe space is heart-breaking, so imagine then being told you don’t get any additional help when you’re an adult!

The realm of adulthood is a frightening place, full of bills and taxes. There’s no crash course in being an adult, just like there’s no crash course in living in a world full of neurotypicals, however there are ways to cope in this minefield.

If you’re autistic, or have an autistic child/family member who are about to leave education and go out to work, it is less of a shock to the system if procedures are put in place BEFORE the move is made. Adulthood needs to be broken down into life and functional skills to make it less terrifying.

Adult skills and ways to handle them

Rather than having a load of bill information, banking systems and financial burdens thrust upon you when you reach adulthood, the following tasks can be broken down and done separately until it is grasped:

  • Open a bank account and get used to putting in/taking out money and saving
  • Teach budgeting, first with a small amount and then increase
  • Have a visual of what bills are needed when living independently
  • Practice grocery shopping on a budget
  • Practice setting up direct debits

For those who can live independently, living alone is a big thing. If there is another housemate then that means extra help, but sometimes autistic people prefer to live alone and they
need the skills to be able to look after themselves and the house. Here’s a few things to practice at:

  • Loading/emptying dishwasher or washing by hand
  • How to do laundry
  • Shopping for cleaning products (to get a feel of what is best sensory wise)
  • How to clean a bathroom
  • How to clean an oven
  • Make a visual chore chart
  • Teaching autistic people the importance of a clean house

Going from school into the workplace is very hard and yet somehow autistic people are supposed to cope. There’s many things we are expected to just know but have never had experience with, and so it would be helpful to have practice with the following:

  • Find out the best way to take notes as an autistic person (every autistic person needs to take notes differently)
  • Practice asking for accommodations with a trusted person so that it doesn’t feel too hard when doing it in the workplace.
  • Practice manners on the phone
  • Have a couple of days a week doing work experience before beginning work so that you are eased into it
  • If there is something you enjoy doing as a hobby, such as gardening or pet sitting, volunteer to get practice working around other adults without the pressure of holding down a job
  • Create communication cards to help explain what you struggle with
  • If you are a parent with an autistic child about to leave education, be honest about what work is like and discuss what your child may struggle with, so you can find ways to help them

Cooking can either be a good sensory experience or an awful one, plus there’s the added stress of being too fatigued to cook. Before the autistic person even moves out and finds they can’t feed themselves, there’s a few things that can be worked on:

  • Have your child help you prepare food regularly at their own station so they can get used to cooking.
  • Encourage them to cook a mealfor the family, or bake something
  • Practice ‘easy’ meals that include safe foods
  • Ask if your child would like to take cooking or baking lessons
  • If cooking is too hard sensory wise, can you come up with another system? (Personal note: I cannot cook as it is too awful on a sensory level for me, so I buy the ingredients and my mum batch cooks for me, then I freeze the meals)
  • Practice use of oven or microwave
  • Encourage use of easy cooking tools such as the ones that chop up veg to make cooking easier
  • Create visual meal plans which include safe foods

If you’re an autistic adult and you start going out independently, you need to be able to manage your surroundings and be ready for a lot of different scenarios, such as late buses or where it is safe to go. Parents can put lessons in place before their child reaches adulthood but autistic adults also need help and support to continue going out independently:

  • Practice reading a bus or train timetable
  • Practice routes on google maps
  • Encourage packing a small bag to help with sensory aversions such as ear defenders, stim toys or a safe item that brings joy.
  • Sort out a system of checking in, either by calling or texting, in a way that the autistic personwill remember when they are out and about (this could be calendar reminders or agreeing a specific time)
  • Practice coping methods for when a bus or train is late. This could be a practice scenario butknowing what to do in that situation can prevent a meltdown.

Whilst not every example will help every autistic person, having enough practice and support from family members, friends and trusted adults will help autistic people navigate adulthood more easily. It’s not an easy process, as a lot of adults go through life making it up as they go along anyway, but as long as life skills are taught and aspects of adulthood are practiced, it won’t be completely ‘new’.

By Luce Greenwood, autistic advocate and content writer. @coffeecupsbooks