When Your Autistic Child Starts Adulting

When your autistic child becomes an autistic grown up and starts adulting, let them! It seems like a pretty simple idea. Alas, many caregiver parents struggle with this transition more than their autistic child does.

When Your Autistic Child Starts Adulting

Transitions are hard as we know better than most people. Transitions are change and change is difficult to deal with on or off the spectrum. However, change can be a good thing. You don’t want things, particularly your kids, to never change.

I have three children with autism who are now grown, or as they’d say: “grown-ass-adults”. It’s hard to remember sometimes that they are old enough to vote and do lots of things you don’t think of your children being old enough to do—especially when your child is disabled. Disabled children do grow up, though.

No matter what their functioning level, they all grow up to some degree. Many, sadly, may never be fully independent or totally functioning adults.

However, all of them can to some degree do some, again as they would say, adulting. Even a non-verbal fifteen year old autistic kid might master that perfect teenage eye roll expression. Don’t take it as ‘disrespect’ as a parent might be prone to but take it as age appropriate self-expression. Celebrate the eye roll. Celebrate the sass!

I must remember when my 17-year-old daughter tells me to “Chill out mom, don’t be a hag,” that I once worried she’d never speak. Remember that she is not only speaking now, but using age-appropriate social skills. Sass is both a social skill and also fitting for a 17-year-old.

Drinking a couple cocktails and embarrassing oneself on the karaoke stage is prettIf you have such a daughter, ‘don’t have a cow,’ as she might say. In the actual quote that my daughter said, the ‘hag’ was a stronger term, that I spared y’all in print here. Nonetheless, a less than well received word now and then is pretty age-appropriate speech for a 17-year-old.


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When my 25-year-old daughter wants her one-on-one respite care worker to take her to a bar, to drink strawberry daiquiris and sing karaoke, instead of to go the arcade to play video games like they used to, I have remember that I mourned the loss of her being able to grow up to be a normal adult.

Drinking a couple cocktails and embarrassing oneself on the karaoke stage is pretty normal adulting. She even cleared the amount she could drink with her doctors on her own accord asking them at her first appointment after turning twenty-one. Now that is some awesome adulting there.

When my nearly 30-year-old son, (Ye Gods, help me, am I old enough to have a son that old?) is finally moving to his own apartment, I need to remember when he’s listing off all the fast food places within walking distance of his new home is not a time for me to lecture him about him not being allowed to eat too much fast food. He’s a grown man, in his own apartment—he can eat whatever he wants.

Back when he was five and just diagnosed as autistic, I was so broken hearted that he’d never be a ‘man’ but always a child. Nevertheless, after all, he is a man now and no longer a child. He might still watch Scooby Doo and collect comic books …well, actually, lots of grown men do that who aren’t autistic, but you know what I mean.

Remember to let your autistic, adult children do their adulting. They might date the girl we’d not pick for them, but remember when we lamented them never being able to date when the doctors told us they were autistic so many years ago. They might not mind our every order like they did when they were ten now that they’re 20 years old, and that’s a good thing!

A couple in love. Fingers symbolizing lovers

You, like me, may be a lifelong caregiver for your autistic child. But keep in mind he/she is now your autistic, adult child. Take pride in his/her adulating. Take pride in your learning to let your child adult.

So, chillax, Mom. Let’s mind our own business, and be supportive, not controlling, m’kay? Yeah, I know it’s hard advice to follow, but all good advice is.

This article was featured in Issue 101 – Balancing The Autism Journey

Ginger Strivelli

Ginger Strivelli is an artist and writer from North Carolina, where she raised her six children, three of whom are autistic. She has written for Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Third Flatiron, Autism Parenting Magazine, and various other publications for 30 years.

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