The transition from adolescence to adulthood can be tricky and turbulent for everyone — it comes with a host of added responsibilities, including managing finances, independent living, health, work, relationships, and so much more. Navigating so many new things, so constantly, can feel very overwhelming.
As an autistic person, the transition into adulthood can present with additional and unique stressors. One thing that many authentically autistic voices advocate for is not remaining stuck on the most typical path (four-year university followed by a 9-to-5 job), but rather to carve out and design your own path that aligns with your unique strengths and interests, supports your particular needs, and allows you to thrive.
Here are some ways that you can take charge and plan ahead for the best outcomes for your own transition to adulthood.
Insurance and medical planning
Navigating and accessing insurance is notoriously complicated, but it can be made easier with some research and planning.
Young adults can remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26. Once they turn 27, they become responsible for finding their own independent coverage. It’s best to have a plan well in advance of aging out at 26.
There are several different ways to access insurance: through an employer’s plan, through Medicaid (for those eligible based on income), or through the Affordable Care Act private insurance marketplace.
Outside of health insurance, adulthood comes with greater control over medical choices, including scheduling medical appointments, arranging transportation, and organizing medical records. It is helpful to strategize the best way to remember to make and attend appointments.
We recommend using the AASPIRE Healthcare Toolkit to develop a healthcare plan. Through this website, you can create a personalized healthcare accommodations report that will provide personalized suggestions for how your providers can help you access better healthcare. The resource also includes worksheets to assist in making appointments, better understanding your symptoms, what to do after your visit, and checklists for what to bring.
Another helpful tip is to get an expanding file folder that you can bring to each appointment and use it to store any information you receive from your providers. This way you’ll be able to access any documents your doctor may ask for and keep track of everything in one convenient location.
Have a trusted adult
While you gain decision-making independence from your parents or guardians, you don’t have to do everything totally independently. You may want a trusted adult whom you can consult with on big decisions, such as a parent, mentor, therapist, or life coach.
The important part of this is that the decision is yours: You get to choose who that trusted adult is, and you get to invite them into these conversations, whatever that may be.
Starting your career can be quite daunting. But jobs can be enjoyable — and they help you not only provide for yourself and give you resources to explore your passions, but can also add to your sense of purpose in life too.
With a seemingly infinite set of possible jobs, the first step to entering the job market is to identify what are you good at and what excites or appeals to you. Identifying your strengths and interests can help you as you start your job hunt.
A counselor at school can be an excellent resource to talk through your strengths with and determine what could be a good fit for you. If you are in college, your college career counseling services center can provide resources, including potentially a strengths assessment or print-out guides. Perhaps they also have resources and mentorship for creating a resume or cover letter should you need one.
Your Individualized Education Program (IEP), if you have one, may have some job and medical transition goals, which can help prepare you for both. If you have an IEP, request to attend these meetings and advocate for personalized, job transition plans that allow you to explore areas of interest with structured support. This provides a great place to start transition discussions with your parents or guardians.
When starting your job hunt, one place to look is your local community — speaking to trusted individuals about where they started out, seeing job posting signs, or working at a place you’re familiar with. There are employment websites with thousands of different job listings. You could check out the websites Hire Autism or Mentra which lists autism-friendly job opportunities. There are also lots of other job search assistance resources.
There are benefits and risks to disclosing that you are autistic to a potential or current employer. Reasonable accommodations can greatly reduce stress and increase productivity in the workplace. For example, if sensory sensitivities interfere with focus, then the option to work in a separate space, work remotely, or use sensory tools (e.g., earplugs, blue-light blocking glasses, brimmed hat) can substantially improve your quality of life at work. For others, the provision of an agenda for upcoming meetings or a preview of the work schedule for the month could be beneficial. These small tweaks are easy to implement and can help the work environment feel more comfortable. On the other hand, many people continue to believe outdated stereotypes about autism and you might be at risk for unconscious bias or prejudice. However, under the American Disability Act, you cannot be fired for disclosing this piece of your identity to an employer. If you believe that you have been discriminated against or treated unfairly, contact the National Disability Rights Network for legal counsel.
Consider the pros and cons of disclosing that you are autistic with a trusted friend or professional in order to determine the best decision for your situation.
It can be difficult establishing new interpersonal relationships once you finish school. High school and college provide built-in structure for meeting people, connecting with other like-minded peers, and maintaining these connections. Outside of school, many people find it difficult to navigate these relationships.
If you are encountering difficulties, considering finding community organizations or groups that gather around an activity, hobby, or interest.
Another option would be to find a more structured special interest group that meets to discuss a particular hobby or passion. A few places to search for these groups include Divergent Design Studios, Ourtism, and AANE. Some local options include DC Peers and First in Maryland.
Many autistic adults like to build online communities through social media, video games, chat programs, and more. These spaces provide the opportunity to be understood and realize that there are many other people who experience the world similar to the way that you do. In online spaces, it might be easier to communicate with others due to the lowered nonverbal, sensory, and communication demands.
What if I need more support for this?
There’s no perfect formula or roadmap for making the transition to adulthood, and it’s possible that you may want some more guidance or support on how to best prepare yourself for it.
Individual therapy with a professional who truly understands the autism neurotype can help guide you along the path to adulthood. These services can provide someone trustworthy and knowledgeable to help with decision-making and planning.
You can also look into getting a life coach or an executive function coach, who can check in with you and help navigate school or work, for example.
At Georgetown Psychology, our therapists work collaboratively with clients to support their goals and mental wellness. Georgetown Psychology is committed to neurodivergent affirming assessment and therapeutic practices and invites individuals who are looking for support to consult with our team.