How to Get Your Adult-Child with High-Functioning Autism to Live Independently

"How can I motivate my adult son (with high functioning autism) to develop some sense of responsibility and think in terms of becoming a productive member of society?"

If you are in a situation where your adult child with Aspergers or high-functioning autism (HFA) is living with you and it is mutually beneficial (or at least mutually respectful), then this article may not be for you. However, if your young adult is overly-dependent or lives at home in a situation that has become uncomfortable or intolerable, then read on…

Over time, some moms and dads of adult children on the autism spectrum have moved from “caring for” their child to “care-taking” – sometimes well into their adulthood. Many moms and dads are held hostage by emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, disappointment, guilt, fear, etc.) and frequently wonder what will happen if they do throw their adult child out of the nest without a net.

Here are some concrete steps to help that adult child gain the self-reliance needed to move out of your house:

1. If you’re living with a partner who is not on the same page as you, it can make putting these steps into effect extremely difficult. You can only control yourself. If it’s causing serious conflict, you may want to seek marriage counseling regarding how the two of you can come to a mutual agreement.

2. Identify ahead of time what you’re willing to follow through with, what your boundaries are, and which emotional buttons will most likely get you to cave-in. One parent stated, “I’m okay with my adult child (now 20-years-old) not having a cell phone or video games, but I don’t want him to be homeless living on the street.” That parent knew she would allow her son to live in her home without the benefit of unearned privileges, so that is the boundary that was set. It was later revealed that this young adult decided those “extras” were important, so once his parent stopped providing free handouts (i.e., giving him money for this and that), he was inclined to go get a job and start paying his own way – including renting an apartment.

3. Instead of picturing your adult child as a fragile individual who will probably fail on multiple levels when he leaves the nest, think of him as fully capable of functioning on his own in the real world. Our emotions can cause us to be so afraid of what will happen to our "special needs" children that we think of them as kids, rather than grown-ups. In reality, your adult child is a grown-up —equal to you, and equally capable of making it in this life. Thinking of him as incapable is actually a disservice to him and keeps you in parental “care-taking mode.” Your child may be uncomfortable with some of the steps you’re taking that encourage more responsibility – but that’s okay. This is what he needs to experience in order to make changes within himself. Changing your viewpoint will help you strengthen those “guilt” and “fear” emotional buttons.

4. Many grown-up on the autism spectrum are struggling to become independent in today’s generation. True, the economy is bad, and our country is experiencing hard times. But that’s nothing new. We’ve gone through recessions and depressions in the past. The difference with many young Aspergers and HFA adults in today’s generation seems to be 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 our adult children the value of delayed gratification and working for things they desire. It’s okay for them to be uncomfortable and realize they have the ability to survive hard times through self-reliance. If your guilt or fear buttons start reacting, remember this: we give our “special needs” children these lessons out of love.

5. Make your boundaries clear. If your adult son lives in a separate residence, but still depends on you as a source of income, set some boundaries. State what you will and will not pay for. If you need to start small and work your way up, that’s okay. If you just can’t stop buying groceries yet, because you know you won’t follow through with allowing your son to eat at soup kitchens, then start with things like cell phones, money for gas, cigarettes, movie money, etc. It is his responsibility to locate resources (e.g., friends, churches, government assistance, etc.). Your adult child 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.

==> Launching Adult Children With Aspergers and HFA: How To Promote Self-Reliance

6. Some moms and dads have adult kids at home who are abusing them verbally or even physically. You have the right to live in your own home, free from abuse, intimidation or disrespect. Anytime someone treats you in this way, they are violating a boundary – and sometimes violating the law. It’s your right to establish personal boundaries that keep you physically and emotionally safe.

7. Another strategy to help your “dependent” child is to make it more uncomfortable to depend on you than to launch. A huge part of making your adult child uncomfortable is to stop paying for all the “extras” (i.e., things he views as necessities that really aren’t). Even in today’s world, he can live without cell phones, internet, haircuts, video games, and any other leisure activity you can name. Some ways to cope with little money include the following:
  • He can eat cheap (e.g., macaroni & cheese, Ramen noodles, etc.).
  • He can take the bus.
  • If he doesn’t have the money for cigarettes or alcohol– he doesn’t get them.
  • He can get clothes from Salvation Army or Goodwill.
  • and so on…

8. If your adult child lives in your home, draw up a contract that specifies the terms of his living there. This is an agreement between two grown-ups. Don’t think of him as your kid. Instead, picture him as a tenant. Then you’ll be less likely to have your emotional buttons triggered. A young adult may decide he doesn’t like the contract and will decide to live elsewhere. More power to him! The important thing to remember is that your child is not “entitled” to live in your home past the age of eighteen. It’s a privilege, and you have every right to set some realistic limits.

9. In some situations, adult on the spectrum have literally worn out their welcome by taking and taking – financially and emotionally – without giving in return. Thus, you don’t have to feel guilty about moving your child into independence so you can have your own life back. You have the right to:
  • enjoy peaceful evenings in your own home
  • have the environment you want in your home
  • spend your money on things for yourself

You’ve raised your son or daughter. He/she is an adult now. You are not expected to provide for him/her any more than your parents are expected to provide for you as a grown-up.

10. Many adult children make a career out of asking their mom or dad to provide things for them that they can’t afford themselves. Most people aren’t going to provide these things for your adult child. There are no free hand-outs in the “real” world. But too many moms and dads provide free hand-outs to their adult children, which leads these children to believe that free hand-outs are everywhere (what a shock when they find out differently!). Your adult child can live without an Internet connection in his apartment (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).

11. Remember to strengthen your emotional buttons. If your adult child 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 have your own home, free from negativity or meeting another adult’s needs).

==> Launching Adult Children With Aspergers and HFA: How To Promote Self-Reliance

12. Contact the local court to get information about the legal avenues you can pursue to help your adult child move out. Many states require you to serve a “Notice to Quit” to any grown-up living in your home. If your child still refuses to leave, you may need to follow up with an Eviction Notice that gives a deadline for him to move out. If your child still refuses to leave, the police can enforce the eviction by notifying him that he will be escorted out of the house in 24 to 48 hours. Eviction steps are definitely a form of tough love, but remember to think of your adult child as a tenant.

13. It’s okay for your adult child 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 for the adult child. It’s what motivates him to find his equilibrium again, through employment, returning to college, offering his services through odd jobs, or whatever it takes to get the things in life that he wants.

14. Assess where you are right now. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Are you in a place where your boundaries are being crossed and you need to establish some limits?
  • Are you willing to allow your adult child to live in your home, within those limits, as he moves toward being more independent?
  • Do you see your child as wanting to become independent, or as simply being more comfortable allowing you to take care of all the responsibilities?
  • Has the situation become so intolerable – perhaps even explosive – that your main concern is getting your young adult out of your house, as quickly and safely as possible?

15. If you are afraid of violence or other repercussions from your son or daughter because of these steps, it’s helpful to locate your local resources on domestic violence and contact your local court regarding your right to a restraining order. Safety should always comes first.

==> Launching Adult Children With Aspergers and HFA: How To Promote Self-Reliance

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