“We have a 28 year old son with Asperger syndrome (high-functioning) who refuses to leave our house. He is a college graduate with a marketable degree, but he refuses to get a real job. He has earned a considerable amount of money playing online poker and just laughs in my face and tells me to shut up when I tell him that gaming is not a way to earn a living. I recently told him that if he was going to support himself by gambling that he needed to find a new place to live. He threw a huge tantrum, got in my face, cussed me out, and dared me to kick him out. On top of everything else, he does not clean up after himself. You’d think we had a 16 year old living here! We are at our wits end. We don't want to strain our relationship with our son by getting the police involved because we love him and have had plenty of good times over the years. But we are getting older, and it’s time for him to go. My wife and I are getting ready to retire and we do not need to spend our retirement dealing with this drama and chaos. How do we get our son to move on with his life in a non-confrontational manner?”
If you’re in a situation where your adult child with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger’s (AS) is still living with you, is overly-dependent, or lives at home in a situation that has become difficult or unbearable for you, then now is the time to take action (i.e., today – not tomorrow!).
Many parents wonder what will happen if they throw their adult child with “special needs” out of the nest. They often have trouble knowing how much to help their “suffering” child now that he is an adult. At some level, they may continue to “cushion” him or to “feel sorry” for him, which results in home-life being so comfortable that the child sees no reason to ever leave.
In this all-to-common scenario, parents have “stepped-in” time and time again to over-protect and over-assist their adult child. At a time where “typical” young adults are going off to college, starting a career, renting an apartment, and even getting married – the HFA or AS adult simply wants to live in his parent’s basement and play video games.
Assess where you are right now by answering these questions:
- Has the situation become so unbearable that your main concern is getting your adult son out of your house as quickly and safely as possible?
- Do you see your son as wanting to become independent, or as simply being more comfortable allowing you to take care of all his responsibilities?
- Are you in a place where your boundaries are being crossed and you need to establish some limits?
The longer you wait to muster-up some tough love, the harder it will be to get your son to launch into adulthood. If you’re waiting for things to get better on their own, you’re in for a long wait. You MUST begin the hard work of implementing a few tough love strategies. There is NO easy way out of this, so don’t expect that you can accomplish what you need to in a “non-confrontational manner.” You will have to confront – and be assertive here.
What can parents of a young adult on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum do to help him live independently? Here are some simple, concrete steps to take:
1. Make it more uncomfortable to depend on you than to fly from the nest. One way to accomplish this is to stop paying for all the “extras” that your son views as necessities that really aren’t (e.g., cell phone, internet connection, video games, etc.). One mother reported that her 25-year-old son with Asperger’s decided those “extras” were important. Once she stopped providing free handouts (i.e., giving her son money for this and that), he was motivated to go get a job and started paying his own way, including renting an apartment.
2. Learn to say – and stick with – “no”.
3. DO NOT try to shield your son from experiencing the negative consequences and painful emotions associated with his poor choices.
4. Some adult children on the spectrum have literally worn out their welcome by taking and taking – financially and emotionally – without giving in return. Therefore, parents should not feel guilty about moving their grown child into independence so they can have their own life back. Parents have the right to spend their money on things for themselves, to have the environment they want in their home, and to enjoy peaceful evenings with no drama. You’ve raised your son. He’s an adult now. You are not expected to provide for him any more than your parents are expected to provide for you now that you are an adult.
5. Keep an eye out for your son’s guilt-trips.
6. Your HFA son is not a fragile individual who will probably fail miserably when he leaves the nest. As with most other young adults on the “high-functioning” end of the autism spectrum, he is capable of functioning on his own out in the real world. Your worries and doubts may be causing you to be so afraid of what will happen to your son – especially if you continue to think of him as a kid rather than an adult. In reality, your son is equal to you, and equally capable of making it in this life. Thinking of him as incompetent is actually a disservice to him and keeps you in parental “care-taking mode.” He may be uncomfortable with some of the steps you’re taking that encourage more responsibility – but that’s fine. Change is supposed to be uncomfortable. Getting out of your comfort zone strengthens you. This is what he needs to experience in order to make some serious changes within himself. Changing your viewpoint will help you avoid those “guilt” and “fear” emotional buttons.
7. Even with an adult child, parents should discipline rather than nag – and discipline without later reducing or negating the discipline.
8. If your adult son eventually moves into a separate residence, but still depends on you as a source of income, set some limits. State what you will and will not pay for. If you need to start small and work your way up, that’s fine. If, for example, you just can’t stop buying groceries for him yet, then start “pulling the plug” on a few small things (e.g., cell phone, money for gas, cigarettes, movie money, etc.). It is his responsibility to locate other resources (e.g., friends, churches, government assistance, etc.). Your son can always apply for assistance through government programs (e.g., food stamps, rental assistance, etc.) if he is truly unable to locate work and support himself.
9. Know that your HFA son does not always have to be happy in order to have high self-esteem.
10. Make sure that you and your son’s other parent are united and bonded on most issues.
11. Many young adults – autistic or not – are struggling to become independent in today’s economy. True, the economy is bad, and our country is experiencing hard times. But that’s nothing new. We’ve gone through recessions and depressions before. The difference with many young HFA and AS adults in today’s generation is the “sense of entitlement” and the “aversion to sacrificing” in order to make it. Today, society is all about technology and instant gratification. But, it’s not too late to teach your son the value of delayed gratification and working for the things he desires. It’s okay for him to be uncomfortable and realize he has the ability to survive hard times through self-reliance. If your guilt or fear buttons start getting pushed, remember this: You are giving your child these lessons out of love.
12. Pay attention to your feelings of guilt about how you have parented, and know it is a sign that you are – once again – beating up on yourself.
13. When you catch yourself feeling sorry for your “special needs” son, know it is a sign that you are – once again – taking on too much responsibility.
14. It’s okay for your adult son to be uncomfortable – we’ve all been uncomfortable and survived. It’s actually a good thing – and necessary for change. “Change” occurs when things feel uncomfortable, out of balance, or unsteady. It’s what motivates us to find our equilibrium again – through employment, returning to college, offering our services through odd jobs, or whatever it takes to get the things in life that we really want.
15. When your son needs to be comforted or cheered-up, do so with active listening, empathy, paraphrasing, and validation rather than “giving” him things (e.g., unearned privileges, food, gifts, fun activities, etc.).
16. Your HFA son may have made a career out of asking you to provide things for him that he can’t afford himself. Other people are not going to provide these things for him. There are no free hand-outs in the “real” world. But you may have been providing free hand-outs to your son, which may have lead him to believe that free hand-outs are everywhere (what a shock when he finds out differently!). Your son can live without an Internet connection (he can get online at the local library). He doesn’t have to text (he can write letters). His hair can get really, really long (he doesn’t “need” a haircut). You get the idea. Make sure you understand the difference between wants and needs.
17. Teach your son ways to cope with little money. For example, if he doesn’t have the money for cigarettes or alcohol– he doesn’t get them. He can take the bus. He can get clothes from Salvation Army or Goodwill. He can eat cheap (e.g., macaroni & cheese, Ramen noodles, etc.).
18. If you are O.K. with your adult child continuing to live at home, but you want him to mature and develop some emotional muscles, draw up a contract that specifies the terms of his living there. This is an agreement between two competent adults. Don’t think of your son as your kid. Instead, view him as a tenant. In this way, you’ll be less likely to have your emotional buttons triggered (e.g., feelings of guilt). Your son is not “entitled” to live in your home past the age of 18. It’s a privilege, and you have the right to set some realistic limits.
19. If your son typically pushes the “guilt” and “sympathy” buttons in order to stay dependent and comfortable, prepare yourself for what’s coming and create a plan on how you’ll handle it (e.g., make some note cards or adopt a slogan to remind yourself that you have the right to be free from negativity or meeting another adult’s needs).
20. Understand the motivation behind your son’s “inaction” and resistance to change. When a young adult with HFA or AS feels “incapable,” he will try to feel “capable” by holding on to the “familiar” (e.g., surfing the Internet, playing childhood games, continuing to live at home with mom and dad, staying in bed, failing to find part-time employment, avoiding making plans to continue his education past high school, sitting on the couch, withholding overall involvement, etc.). All of this gives him a sense of being in control. To a parent, the behavior looks like pure “laziness” and lack of motivation. But the young adult views it as the only way to have power over what’s going on around him. The thought of being a “grown-up” with adult responsibilities is overwhelming. Thus, he holds on tightly to his comfort zone, which makes it even more difficult to “launch” into adulthood.
The young adult child who uses resistance as a form of “control” lacks both problem-solving skills and social skills. By implementing some of the suggestions listed above, parents can help their child on the autism spectrum to begin the process of blossoming into a functional, capable, contributing member of society.
Launching Adult Children With Aspergers and HFA: How To Promote Self-Reliance
• Anonymous said… Help him find an apartment and hire a moving truck. He needs to see what the real world is like...
• Anonymous said… Do you have another adult child or a trusted friend that can be there with you and help explain to your son that for many reasons it is time for him to move out. Emphasis all the positives for moving out! Good Luck
• Anonymous said… Does your wife feel the same ?
• Anonymous said… He doesn't need help or deserve it with the way he is acting
• Anonymous said… How about making his life not so easy? He is home because its good there. Mom probably cooks, You pay the bills, do his laundry, pickup for him....etc.Only you know what you are doing that shouldn't be doing for a 28 yr old. Maybe cutting the internet so he cant online game. Or how about looking for a different home. One like a duplex or with an in law quarters so your still together but have your own privacy. Hope things work out for you guys.
• Anonymous said… I love the internet comment.
• Anonymous said… I think this is a great article with many solid options on 'how' to start the process of transitioning grown children to move on towards independence. Independence feels 'good' and yes it takes work and practice, like everything else in life, but the journey is an important one. Yes, the parental 'guilt' can be overwhelming so thank you for addressing the 'feelings' aspect. At the end of the day, we want our children to be able to be self-sufficient in the real world. That would give me some serious 'peace of mind' . We work in conjunction with a behavioral therapist so the message of independence is being 'echoed' by a supportive professional & it's not just 'mom or dad' being 'mean'. My personal opinion is that if calls to the police or forced evictions can be avoided, it's best for all; however, I'm sure that's not an option for everybody.
• Anonymous said… I'd pack up and move myself, downsize so he has no choice but to find somewhere else lol
• Anonymous said… If he's old enough to gamble online, he's old enough to deal with the consequences of his behavior, and that includes taking care of himself. Enabling bad behavior in anyone -- adults or children, and this is no child -- doesn't help anyone and only serves to weaken them in the long run. Out you go.
• Anonymous said… I'm pretty shocked at the responses from parents. It's quite possible this adult son might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of suddenly moving into complete independence, hence the angry outbursts. Not condoning his behavior, but his brain is not that of a typical 28 year old man. Maybe the parents need guardianship of their adult son, if he is not able to handle the daily stress of life (like self medicating with gambling). Geez. Go learn about autism, folks.
• Anonymous said… Maybe you could help him find his own place close to you. Our Aspie purchased his own townhouse 2 blocks from us and continues to come to our house every evening after work, but goes home at bedtime. It's worked well for our family. This was part of his 'life plan' though. He had always told me he couldn't be 30 living at home with his mom "that would be weird" - :-)
• Anonymous said… Tough love, move his stuff to the porch and change the locks.
• Anonymous said… We parents make life & home too comfortable and easy, no wonder kids don't want to leave the nest. I would ring the police if they get abusive or violent . Give them a deadline to move out. Get a retraining order if needed.
• Anonymous said… You need to have him evicted and you should call the police when he is being abusive.
• Anonymous said… Youve let it go on way too long 🤗 tough love can be a very good thing for both parties.
* Anonymous said... Talk to him like an adult, kindly, when things aren't heated. Give him a couple of months to save up. Unfortunately for them, their emotions are messed up and many times don't match the situation. He may need so assistance but yes, it's time for him to go. You need peace and type up a written request of his departure, notice to evict, if he's nit taking things serious. This way, you can protect yourself legally. He needs to learn about the real world and he's a decade behind.
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