Advice from an autistic adult to autistic teens aiming for independence

This is the time of year that a lot of teens and young adults are receiving acceptance notices for schools they applied to, looking for jobs, and generally aiming to take their first big step into the adult world – be it working a full-time job for the first time, starting a training course, going to university, living on their own for the first time, or some combination of the above.

I was a bit too ignorant to be nervous when I was leaving high school – I had no idea what was to come, but I knew it had to be better than high school, and I was right. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t make my mistakes during the transition, nor does it mean I couldn’t have benefited from some advice from people who know about how to adult while autistic. I had received a lot of well-meaning advice that was either useless or worse-than-useless for me, so the transition to uni and getting the hand of being on my own took me closer to the first three full years of my undergraduate program, whereas it seemed my neurotypical peers had the hang of things within three months. I am still getting the hang of adulting at 27, while most NT adults at 27 I know are already settled down and either raising or thinking of starting a family. Still, I am happy and safe, and that counts for a lot more than most people think it does. I thought I’d write up something to give advice to those just about to start on the transition to independent adulthood.

This isn’t for the parents – parents, frankly, unless your kid asks for help, at this stage in their life the best thing you can do for them is to stand back and trust them to make their own decisions. And mistakes. Because there will be mistakes, but part of learning to adult is making those mistakes and learning to deal with them. You won’t do your kid any favors if you micromanage.

For those starting on the transition to living away from their parents, some advice:

  1. If you do not already know how, learn how to do laundry now, before you move out. Nobody will do your laundry for you, and ruining all your clothes is both sadmaking and expensive. Start doing all your own laundry, or even better, all the laundry for your household, at least three months before you leave, so you’re used to the routine and work of laundry day.
  2. If you do not already know how, learn how to cook. Real food. From scratch. It’s both cheaper and healthier for you than instant stuff, and it tastes better. If you follow the right recipes, it’s not even that much more time-consuming than cooking instant stuff (especially if you follow time-saving tricks that I do, like chopping an entire onion whether or not I need that much and then keeping the leftover chopped onion for a sandwich or for use in a recipe the next day). Start cooking at least one meal per week for the family, so you can get used to the amount of time preparing food takes. When you get out on your own, invest in tupperware and pack away leftovers to the fridge or freezer – if you cook enough for, sa,y four at supper, then you get three extra meals out of it you can spread out to the rest of the week. When I have a busy week, I do all my cooking on my day off and pack my lunches and suppers away into the fridge and freezer – then weekday meals take no longer than heating up instant food.  Even if you’re living in a dorm, sometimes you don’t want the over-salted brown sludge with leathery mushrooms over mushy egg noodles they call “beef stroganoff” in the food hall. Most dorms have a kitchenette, and cooking yourself food there once in a while might be fun.
  3. If you will be living in a dormitory-style residence, buy a microwave and learn microwave recipes. If you are a picky eater like I am, I guarantee a stash of food in your room will save you from starving (as it was, I lost 50lbs in my first year of uni. It was 50lbs I could afford to lose, but that should still tell you something). Dorm food is united by one common theme across the vast majority of dorms I’ve been to or heard the reputations of: That is that it is almost uniformly awful.
  4. Find an organization and scheduling system that works for you. If agendas have never helped, they likely never will, but if you always have your phone with you, a phone app or Google Calendar might be useful. I survive through a combination of Google Calendar and timers.
  5. Exercise regularly, doing something you enjoy. Exercise is excellent for de-stressing, keeps you healthy, and help improve your mood. Make time at least three days a week for an hour of exercise (or six days a week for a half hour – this could include walking/rolling to work instead of taking transit, but also includes physical hobbies like playing a sport, swimming, cycling, or hiking).
  6. If you will live with a roommate, work out whose responsibility which chore is what day, and post it in a visible area. Make a habit of checking it off or moving a magnet or something onto the chore when you’ve finished it for that day and then you know if you’ve done your chores. From experience: no matter how well either of you intend it, if you do not set out a chore plan at the start and, more importantly, stick to it, work will be distributed unfairly and resentment will happen.
  7. If you are good at keeping your space clean and tidy, you’re better off than me and I have no advice that will benefit you. If, like me, you’ve always struggled with it, check out Unfuck Your Habitat. They’ve helped me keep my habitat cleaner than it ever was growing up.
  8. Learn how to budget. Ideally, take an accounting class while you’re still in high school, but if not, there’s plenty of reliable stuff to be found through Google. Learn how to account for money coming in, expenses, whether there’s a shortfall, etc. Decide what to do with any surplus you have now (otherwise it’ll get spent). I recommend having an emergency fund in your savings account to handle unexpected expenses like, “Crap, I forgot a permanent marker in my pocket and now all my dark clothes are ruined!”
  9. The adulting blog is to social situations and unspoken responsibilities of adulthood what Unfuck Your Habitat is to housecleaning. Read it for how-tos on everything from rent negotiation to job interviews.
  10. Lastly, online, automatic bill payment is your friend if you tend to be a scatterbrain – schedule the payment for just after your paycheck is deposited, and you’re good to go.
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5 thoughts on “Advice from an autistic adult to autistic teens aiming for independence

  1. alexforshaw says:

    This is fantastic — it would have been so useful to me, say, 20 years ago. I went from school to university with no idea what I was getting into, first time living independently. Phrases like “car crash” come to mind. The only thing on your list I could manage reliably was to cook. Everything else turned into a major fuck-up.

  2. Bigger On The Inside says:

    I’m in my late thirties, and I still haven’t mastered most of these. Sigh.

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