When I Say I'm Struggling as an Adult on the Autism Spectrum


I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum when I was 15 years old. By that time, I’d been through so much already. I had to learn how to develop most of my coping skills on my own. But even as a 27-year-old adult, I’m still struggling to get by in the world. So when I say I’m having a hard time and need extra help, it’s important to respect that as the truth.

When I say that, for right now, I can’t take more than one college class at a time because it’s so overwhelming, I’m not using my diagnosis as an excuse. I’m being realistic. Yes, I may be getting wonderful grades, but I’m working hard for them. I’m spending extra time just trying to understand the assignments and the material, because I know I tend to misinterpret things. One class is enough for now to nearly send me into a panic.

When I try to tell people that I don’t know how to do something that seems obvious, it’s not because I’m being “lazy” or “difficult.” I’m asking for help because I don’t have the ability to apply what I’ve learned in past situations to new ones. When others do things such as socializing or learning a new skill, they seem to know how to go about it. And even if they really don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, they at least know what not to do based on past experiences. I’m not always able to apply these ideas to new situations, so I really struggle and usually find myself just freezing up.

When I say I’m having a meltdown, I’m not just taking a break to relax. I’m really upset and don’t know how to handle it at the moment. I’m crying and self-stimming, barely able to regulate my body. My mind is so overwhelmed and my thoughts are so jumbled that I’m not able to calm down and work through the problems. I wouldn’t wish a meltdown on anyone. It’s exhausting and debilitating.

And when I ask how to word an email to someone, it’s not because I don’t know how to write. It’s because I’m worried about how it will be interpreted by others. There seem to be unspoken rules about what is appropriate and what’s not appropriate in different situations. And the rules always seem to be changing. I am so anxious about making sure that what I say is understood correctly, and that I understand others. I honestly can’t imagine how people will respond.

It may seem like I’m “neurotypical,” but that’s only because I’ve learned so many ways to cope with the world around me. There are still so many reasons for why I need extra help. Please don’t brush off my struggles, no matter how “typical” they might seem. I may be old enough to be an adult, but I’m definitely still learning how to handle “adulting.”

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