A Message of Hope: What Might My High-Functioning Autistic Child’s Life Be Like as An Adult?

“I am interested in what happens to children with Level 1 Autism as they mature and become adults. We have concerns for our 12 y.o. son regarding his ability to function in the real world when he gets older. Are the prospects mostly encouraging for these special needs kids? Are there areas of life that they are bound to struggle in? Is there anything we can do now that will put our son on the path to success? What might his life be like as an adult?”

The prognosis is mixed for children with Level 1 Autism (high-functioning autism) and Asperger’s, but mostly encouraging I would say. The long-term outcomes for your son will depend on the severity of his symptoms, baseline IQ, ability to communicate, and the interventions and support he receives. Early intervention is crucial in the potential normal functioning of kids on the autism spectrum.

If your son has a supportive family (which I’m sure he does), retains a reasonable sense of self-esteem, and becomes relatively well-educated, he stands a good chance of getting into solid relationships, finding a good job, and having a relatively normal life.

Kids on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum may need special attention when it comes to education due to the fact that they typically have social and behavioral difficulties in the school environment. However, they can learn to manage their differences with appropriate interventions.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Since most children with high-functioning autism have normal or high IQs, they often receive a standard education – and may even excel in their area of interest. Due to this normal to above-normal intellect and the ability to stay in the mainstream school-setting, many go on to college and eventually procure gainful employment.

Circumstances become a bit more problematic during adolescence. The years from 14 to 18 are the most difficult time. In the teenage world where everyone feels insecure, adolescents that appear different are voted off the island. Teens on the spectrum become more socially isolated during a period when they crave friendships and inclusion more than ever. 
In the cruel world of middle and high school, they often face rejection, isolation and bullying. Meanwhile, school becomes more demanding in a period when they have to compete for college placements. In addition, issues of sexuality and a desire for independence from parents create even more problems.

Teens on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum often have problems with social interactions (both social and romantic), self-care, attention span, and organization. Rejection from the peer-group that some teens on the spectrum experience can be traumatic. Many will experience anxiety and/or depression.

Anxiety often stems from a preoccupation over possible violations of routines and rituals, from concern with failing in social encounters, and being placed in a situation without a clear schedule or expectations. As a result, stress may manifest as aggressive or oppositional behavior, hyperactivity, inattention, reliance on obsessions, and withdrawal.

Depression often occurs because the teen has difficulty forming meaningful friendships and fails to engage others socially. Mood disorders may appear during the teenage years as well. It’s not uncommon for these “special needs” teens to remain at home after they grow into early adulthood.

Once the “special needs” teenager has weathered the storms associated with adolescence, things tend to get a bit easier in life. By the time they reach their mid to late 20’s, many are able to work independently, get married, and raise a family.

Adults on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum are commonly gainfully employed in mainstream jobs, but may need moral support and encouragement to live an independent life. Because they typically have narrow but obsessive and intense interest in some fields, they often excel in what they like to do (e.g., engineering, computer science, mathematics, music, sciences, and so on).

Adults on the spectrum have been known to make great intellectual contributions, for example, in computer science, mathematics, and physics. The deficits associated with the disorder can be debilitating, but many people on the spectrum experience positive outcomes, especially those who are able to excel in areas less dependent on social interaction (e.g., architectural drafting, computer programming, librarian, scientist, etc.).

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Additional dynamics that may occur in adults on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum include the following:

On a not-so-positive note --
  • These individuals often suffer difficulties in communication, language, and social interaction typical of Autistic Disorder, as well as repetitive behaviors and narrow interests. Abstract language concepts, (e.g., irony and humor) may well be beyond the comprehension of these individuals.
  • Certain symptoms (e.g., inability to maintain eye contact during conversation) can make job interviews and establishing friendships difficult, as some people often misinterpret the behavior as dishonesty or a lack of interest. 
  • Actions that result from a lack of understanding of non-verbal cues (e.g., body language, facial expression, etc.) can leave people with the impression that adults on the spectrum are self-absorbed and selfish. 
  • Steady employment can be a challenge to some adults on the spectrum. While they are very often extremely bright, focused, and talented employees, the social aspects of the workplace can be their undoing. Workplace camaraderie can be unfamiliar territory for those with social interaction difficulties, the small talk and humor beyond their grasp.
  • Co-workers who are not aware of the difficulties faced by those on the spectrum may see them as odd due to behavioral symptoms, or too serious, aloof, or arrogant because of the social awkwardness that accompanies the disorder. These misunderstandings can breed resentments among co-workers, causing dismissals by employers in order to keep peace in the workplace. 
  • Even the most mildly affected people on the spectrum face challenges in managing their disorder. They are statistically more prone to depression than occurs in the general population. Low self-esteem and loneliness are common. Affordable resources to address these issues can be hard to find, especially in light of the fact that less severe symptoms can make applications for medical and psychological assistance less likely to be approved. 
  • Adults on the spectrum can fall between the cracks of today's safety net of ASD resources and services, because their symptoms may be seen as too mild to qualify them for the support received by more severely affected individuals.

On a positive note --
  • Adults on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum are known for their ability to focus on tasks for long period of times without the need for supervision. At times, they may hyper-focus on a task to the exclusion of everything else, but this is the attribute that makes them extremely productive.
  • Due to the fact that they don’t mind being alone, adults on the spectrum are often willing to engage in solitary work that others dislike, which puts them in the position of making remarkable contributions in the workplace.
  • They are able to understand various levels of meanings of words and ideas and can form connections that others miss.
  • Many of these individuals are good at recognizing patterns and in classifying things. Because they are comfortable with order, precision and categorization, they tend to be successful in following rules, allocating resources, and solving complex problems.
  • Most are determined, and when they set their minds to something, they can typically be trusted to follow through.
  • They are very good at noting and recalling details, which is useful in a job that requires knowledge of facts, details, and memory. They are often exceptional at the recall of details forgotten or disregarded by others.
  • They have a higher level of “fluid intelligence” (i.e., ability to find meaning in confusion, solve new problems, draw inferences, and understand the relationships of various concepts - independent of acquiring knowledge) than “typical” people.
  • To say that individuals on the autism spectrum are detailed oriented is an understatement. Despite the issues surrounding a weak “central coherence” (in which they may fail to see “the big picture”), it is this “weakness” that enables them to focus intensely on details.

All of the positives above can make the high-functioning autistic individual a very productive and valued employee.

Many adults on the spectrum are able to blend into society as well as anyone, learning to manage their disorder to build successful and independent lives. Many find their niche in society quite nicely, with satisfying careers, successful marriages, fulfilling friendships, and active social lives.
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:


•    Anonymous said… A lot of anxiety and depression issues .
•    Anonymous said… As a mom of an autistic daughter, I do worry!
•    Anonymous said… As a parent of 2 Aspies now adults, the future can be good. Both are in full employment, live in their own homes and one is married with a baby. In the teen years concentrate on life skills which include social interactions. Stretch them into uncomfortable situations, let them have casual jobs as teens, a job made them more responsible And they had to practise self control. Limit digital recreations and get them into an after school activity that they enyoy. Try not avoid. It is hard work and there were times that were tough but we all made it.
•    Anonymous said… As my daughter get's older this is a constant question. Thank You.
•    Anonymous said… At age 12 I had the same concerns for my son... I didn't think he would be able to hold a job, let alone live on his own. Fast forward to now, he's almost 17, incredible grades in school and he is headed towards a career in math and science - he will be able to go to any university he wants with his grades, he's learning to drive and he is holding a part time job. Oh! And he has an amazing little group of friends that understand that his brain works differently and that his quirkiness can be a lot of fun. He is fiercely loyal, and empathetic when he understands what is happening in situations. I wouldn't change him for the world.
•    Anonymous said… Great question!! My husband and I wonder the same with our 10yo son.
•    Anonymous said… I am 52, diagnosed late in life and teach at secondary level, and am married and raised two children. I still experience certain difficulties such as anxiety, and problems with processing some ideas and emotions quickly. For parents, it is a balance between worrying too much and letting your own anxiety about them cloud your judgement of their potential in life. I know this because my children are also on the spectrum, and I want to prove to them that they can live satisfying lives and hold down jobs etc.
•    Anonymous said… I have a few cousins who are Autistic with varying degrees of difficulty in different areas. All of them live away from home, three went to University, two are married, one is a Father. It's natural to worry about your children as long as that worry never limits them.
•    Anonymous said… I have a son 11 I wonder the same
•    Anonymous said… I think people over think and worry too much. Just remember, there are generations of people out there who never knew as kids they have HFA or apsergers, and many who still don't know, because it wasn't something we knew about when we were kids. They do pretty well in the grand scheme of things, living independently, running their own homes, holding down jobs, even having families of their own. Granted, things could have been easier, and perhaps more of their potential reached, had they got the right help and support when young. But it's not all doom and gloom.
•    Anonymous said… I'm a level 1 autistic. Doctorate degree. 30 year marriage. Beautiful son on the honors track. Good job. You can expect all these things for him. My partner helps me with the tough stuff (I don't drive right now; he helps to keep me on time / schedule when I don't have a clock or calendar right in front of me; reminds me of priorities when there's a lot of things happening at once). But yes, a good life.
•    Anonymous said… My aspie is 24 and about to graduate from a major university. He has come a long way and we are so proud of him. Never stop supporting and believing. Depression was huge his Sr yr of high school. We got through. He stayed home and worked until he was ready to go to college. He joined a fraternity and made more friends than he had ever had. It has been a great experience for him. This next transition will be huge. Work and living on his own.
•    Anonymous said… My son is now nearly 20. The thing he most struggles with is self regulation in all areas of his life. The emotional/mental strain of 'pretending to be normal'. He has part time work and a post school qualification and a very active social life.
•    Anonymous said… this is the group I find very helpful posts on.

•    Anonymous said… My daughter has moderate ADHD and Aspergers. I was very worried how she would make a living after she got out of High School. After Graduation she decided to start streaming as she played video games and it was a huge hit! She now does it as her profession, like making $400 dollars a Day profession! I never made that much working a normal job and she is very happy doing what she is doing. There are loads of kids her age in their 18-30 range who do this for a living. Almost all of them have some kind of issue like ADHD,Aspergers, speech impediments and more but they support each other. There is seems to be no competition between them. They donate money to each other when one person needs it, like their computer breaks or if VR equipment, isn’t working. It all functions like a healthy community. I tell other parents, don’t get on your kids for playing video games because it could be their job in the future. No one was more thrilled and astounded about this turn of events in her life than me but I’m so very grateful too!

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