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What if doing less is the only way forward?

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Supporting autistic adults to DO MORE can seem like a logical goal for many adult young people, including autistic adults themselves. When you are 18 you are "supposed to" want to be and do everything independently, right!? You are supposed to know what you want to do when you grow up, right?! You are supposed to know how to independently cook, clean, and do laundry for yourself, right? So why isn't my child? Why am I struggling to even remember to do those things as an autistic adult? Why do I have to remind my adult child to do these basic things every. single. day? Well, that’s a lot of pressure for someone with processing needs. Let’s consider things differently, shall we?

Many autistic adults report that they have spent many years "pretending" or "masking" to meet other people's expectations and demands. This pretending for years can be exhausting and lead directly down the slippery slope of shut down or Autistic Burnout. When someone has been trying to live to other people's expectations (e.g., how to act, how to feel, what to do, and how to behave) for a long time, even when those people have good intentions, it can leave the autistic person feeling defeated, hopeless, unmotivated, and not in control of their own lives. When one feels this way, they quite naturally and understandably, wish to do the things that make them feel in control and confident - often video games in their room.

We, as parents, feel completely terrified to see our child not "doing anything" when they are supposed to be launching into the great wide universe of adulting. We worry that it reflects poorly on us - that our child(ren) are not launching "like they are supposed to be." We become anxious and stressed, adding to the tension of the home and of the moments together. Home life becomes one tense mess full of attempts to remind, attempts to be calm, attempts to remember... but ultimately falling flat. Everyone feels like they are "walking on eggshells,” in constant battles, or avoiding confrontation because it is met with defensiveness.

Even pushing in small ways can be too much. The autistic person feels even the slightest push as a push over the edge. Allowing a person experiencing this level of shut down must be done with acceptance, love, and understanding. No small task to be all that as a parent/caregiver. Take the time you’d spend agonizing to take care of yourself in new ways. Find ways to be with your autistic adult child or friend in ways that exude acceptance and curiosity. Allow their system to calm, their confidence and own curiosity to percolate and sprout new growth. Pulling on a plant doesn’t make it grow. Allowing it to take its time while providing necessary nutrients is how it grows new leaves and even flowers.

Autistic people are often not in need of skill development as much as they are in need of acceptance so they can show you what they already know. Being an adult means putting what you know into action, which may take time.

I know this is hard to hear but slowing down and giving in to someone in autistic-shutdown may be the only way forward.

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