When reflecting on my transition to adulthood as an autistic adult, I see a roller coaster of experiences full of many different types of challenges, successes, and growth. In hindsight, there are things wish I would have known when I was a teenager preparing for adulthood, even things I wish I knew when a young adult that might have helped me navigate my experiences and the roller coaster I felt like I was on.
Not being diagnosed with autism until I was 30 years old added extra challenges, especially connected to misdiagnoses, misunderstandings, and maltreatment. It also made it harder to know what I needed, how to prepare, what to expect, and how to advocate for myself regarding employment, education, independent living, relationships, and my legal rights. The challenges I experienced impacted my self-worth as well.
Having a diagnosis helped make so many things make more sense to me, and it has helped me advocate for myself better because I now have greater insight into myself, how I interact in social situations, and how I interact in the world around me as an adult. This insight then helped me developed tools and supports that allowed me to graduate college, gain employment, live independently, enter marriage and parenthood, and improve my relationship with myself.
My transition into adulthood was one rocky roller coaster, but the experience taught me a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned:
I have encountered discrimination both during the job interview process and on the job related to my abilities and being autistic. Initially, I thought this experience was expected and okay. Once I learned it wasn’t, I still didn’t know how to navigate it. I came to understand the importance of learning about what was an acceptable way and unacceptable way for me to be treated. I also learned how to utilize human resources and seek outside support if I encounter discrimination or other inappropriate treatment.
The decision to tell an employer that I am autistic has been a challenging one, especially due to the discrimination I experienced in the past. However, I have also learned that disclosure can assist with advocating for my skills and seeking accommodations. So, now I discuss disclosure with a therapist and employment support counselor each time I need to decide whether to disclose I’m autistic in the workplace outside of the human resources department.
Pre-Employment Skill Development
I have found engaging in workshops, practice sessions, training programs, and work preparedness programs potentially helpful in developing skills necessary for being successful at work, including communication skills, confidence in my abilities, and ability to become familiar with tasks.
Support in the workplace was not something I was familiar with when transitioning to adulthood. I struggled to know how to access support when I needed it and how to determine how much support was needed, along with exactly what supports would be helpful. Now, being able to talk with an employment support specialist has helped me evaluate, advocate, and get the accommodations needed to be successful in the workplace. It has also helped me develop a plan with tools and strategies to manage stress, changes, relationships, and challenges in the workplace.
Changes in current relationship dynamics
So many changes happen when transitioning to adulthood, including routine, relationship roles, goals, etc.… There is not really a way to predict exactly or even fully prepare for these changes, but I am thankful I got the opportunity to have discussions with my parents and a counselor about these changes. We worked together to prepare by practicing, starting with little changes in my routine (i.e. managing my own schedule and reminders), roles (i.e. scheduling my own appointments, responsibilities around the house (i.e. laundry, cooking, cleaning, groceries), at school (i.e. interacting with others, asking questions), work, and in my community (i.e. transportation, banking, grocery shopping) while in high school before officially beginning that transition into adulthood. I know it could have been more jarring, provoked more anxiety, and been more of a struggle if I had not. It was an adjustment for sure, but one my family, friends, and I were all going through together in different ways.
Continued Social Skills Support
Transitioning to adulthood, I encountered more social situations that were new to me, and I really didn’t know how to navigate them. I learned in my early 30’s after accessing social skills support for autistic adults how important this continued social skills support was for me. I was able to utilize it when I felt I needed extra support, build my confidence, and work on different areas of my social skills that were challenging to me such as communication, boundaries, and dating.
It has taken me a long time to learn that there is nothing wrong with the way I am wired and there is nothing wrong with being autistic. I do my best to interact with people and engage in environments that support a healthy me, a me that I am proud of, and make sure that all parts of who I am are celebrated, including being autistic. Self-worth is invaluable at all points in life, and it can easily get lost trying to navigate the many changes during the transition to adulthood.
As an autistic adult, it was important for me to have conversations when preparing for and while transitioning to adulthood to know what my rights are in various settings, situations, emergencies, and medical and legal matters. This included developing plans, practicing different scenarios, and having supports in place when needed. For example, I carry an emergency wallet card and wear an identification bracelet. I also have preprogrammed communication scripts that my occupational and speech therapist helped me create in my AAC device to use for interactions at the pharmacy, with police, with medical professionals & emergency personnel, for transportation, and for asking for help. Lastly, I have participated in programs for adults with disabilities connected to knowing my rights, self-advocacy strategies, and navigating interactions with the police and emergency personnel offered by local organizations.
Kris McElroy is a freelance writer, artist, and advocate. He is passionate about social justice issues and exploring race, disabilities, gender identity & sexuality, mental health, identity, trauma, and intersectionality. Born and raised in Maryland, Kris is an autistic biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities who enjoys spending time with his wife and family. He received his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Multidisciplinary Human Services from Capella University.