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The Pressures of Being an Autistic 18-Year-Old

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I don’t do well without structure. It’s a simple fact. Any sort of change thrown my way, even a simple addition to a night out, leaves me with my brain awry, my stomach in knots and my anxiety bursting at the seams.

So why would I ever choose to move out of my house into a dorm, go completely independent and work a full-time job in the span of two days?

Was it teenage impulsivity? A little bit. Was it a desire to experience something new? Maybe. Was it the need to have some sort of income? Well, I can tell you that definitely played a role. While these were all factors, I believe the most obvious reason boils down to this: societal and familial pressure.

The truth is, I am 18 years old. My extended family doesn’t know I’m autistic, and I often don’t share that fact with others. Before, I was able to blend into the neurotypical world with small-talk scripts I’d learned, but as I’ve gotten older, the interactions with my peers sail me into uncharted seas, and I often find myself capsized. The conversations that were once simple arithmetic have turned into calculus, and I was never very good at math anyway.

As my peers grow among one another, I find myself stumbling behind them, desperate to catch up. Some of my extended family members don’t understand why I’m not on par with other family members in my age group. To them, I am simply a “late bloomer,” or even worse, “lazy.”

So I found myself in a situation a lot of autistic people find themselves in. I’m at an age where I’m “supposed to” make drastic changes to my life. I am supposed to move out, go to college, live independently, find a job, and expand my view of the world. I am supposed to hit a growth spurt in personal development while simultaneously adjusting to the adult world. So when I received the offer to move away from home, live in a dorm, be completely independent and work a full-time job, I jumped in. I thought that maybe if I did this, my family would see me in a different way. I could stride forward and give them something to be proud about. Maybe by throwing myself into the waters of the real world for six weeks, I could see if I sank or swam.

Well, impulsive actions are never wise. I thought I could keep my head above water, but I can feel myself slipping under. There are no familiar routines, no therapy animals, no schedules. I am living in a strange room, in a strange building, with people I have no idea how to interact with. I have never made such a terrible decision in my life, and now I’m stuck here, alone, without any sort of grounding. I am forced to try something new every day, miles away from my comfort zone, desperate for any sort of structure.

There are often articles about letting a child try something new when they say they are ready for it. These articles tell you to allow them to succeed and fail on their own, without interference. But sometimes, you need to evaluate the situation. Is your child doing this because they feel pressured? Is this a serious change that needs careful attention? And most importantly, is my child trying something new just to please others?

It is a delicate balance — maintaining a healthy amount of freedom and restraint. Most of the time, kids and young adults have no idea what the hell they’re getting into. I certainly don’t conceptualize consequences until they are happening. My advice is, don’t let your kid make sudden decisions without talking to them about how it will affect them. I understood that this transition would be hard, but I was so focused on the idea of seeming accomplished by my family that I didn’t fully understand what it entailed.

Make sure to evaluate needs, understand your child won’t change overnight, and give your thought-out opinion before your child decides. That is something I could have certainly used.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: August 10, 2016
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