What does it mean to be an autistic adult?

A female appearing person who appears to be asian is lying face down on a white couch, a book in hand, glasses off to the side. She ooks exhausted and symbolizes autistic burnout in autism adulthood.

What does being an adult mean to me? My mother always defined it in terms of certain goals achieved by a certain age: a certain standard of living, children, a husband.

How are these goals defined? Mostly by mimicking. The vast majority of humans mimic their parents or social circle all the time to decide when they get married or buy a new house or how to behave with their children. Sometimes, they fail at it because of a lack of effort, sometimes due to other factors.

At some subconscious level, I have always instinctively known that I was bad at the mimicking – I take more time, I make more mistakes. I internalized this. All I had was the acute internal awareness that my inability to figure out the world would always play a role in how I achieve my goals.

The logic was irrefutable: the cost of acceptance in the world is a painful process of learning its rules. This is the cost of being an autistic adult. I will never quite understand all of the rules and I have to learn, even if it kills me. And so I nearly killed myself trying to figure things out, all the time not really knowing what I was doing wrong either.

Where others withdraw or give up or pick easier options, I drove myself to exhaustion every time. And I still failed. That only meant that my adulthood, as my mother saw it, and ultimately as I saw it, has been defined by failure.

How could I ever see myself as worthy or lovable?

Adulthood was never defined in terms of a slow or kind process of learning.

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7 Responses

  1. Being an adult is simply being aged 18 or over as far as I’m concerned. The things people do in adult life are, to me, just things you CAN do because you’re deemed old enough. I do some of them, I don’t do others. Some I am not in a position to do, others I simply don’t feel necessary in my life. I know it’s easier said than done, but define adulthood yourself, not what anyone else says it is.

  2. I no longer aim to be an adult — I’m not sure if I ever aimed to be that, to be honest. I see adults, and I see their faults. They’re terrible, way more imbalanced than children, and about just as naive and immature, ultimately. Our society is built on this notion of maturity that doesn’t actually exist in our leaders, in our adults.

    Instead, what I aim to be is a fully developed and most able version of myself that I can be, in balance with how my body works, in balance with being autistic. I no longer care about their rules. I know enough about them to make do in their world, but I am building my own world around me. Every day that I act with the wisdom of knowing myself and my body, and accepting that I am living in an imbalanced world they created, I actually progress towards developing into the best version of my grown self that I can be — to a mature and responsible, balanced human being.

    AND I don’t consider myself to be an adult (by their definition). Kidult actually comes a lot closer to my experience of being an adult. Yet I am in many ways more responsible and mature than they are, and so much more insightful. And I say that without any trace of vanity, just by witnessing their immature, fully emotionally driven and irresponsible actions, and experiencing their bafflement when I try to share my insight with them. Their understanding is so much shallower, and it’s not because I consider myself in any way above them.

    So is it worth trying to be an adult, really? By their definition? I think I’d rather just be fully grown and developed me, rather than someone’s definition of an adult. Maybe I’m a rebel, but I don’t see the sense in being less than I can be. Because by limiting myself trying to conform to their expectations and social standards, what I’d be doing is limiting my own growth and making my body suffer.

    Isn’t the very purpose of life to grow and live life to the fullest? To support a flower bloom, and watch it grow? Being an adult by their definition is like slapping wires on that flower, tying it down to a post, forcing it to confine to your liking, and trying to inhibit its growth.

  3. As I posted logically reasoningly, which is supposed to be adult ! to a Children’s Hospice fundraiser justgivingcomslash fundraisingslash marieclaresworld – I don’t want kids, because such thing exists, exists at all ever, as some of them dying unfairly young.

  4. Thanks for so honestly expressing a painful truth that, no doubt, many of us on the spectrum have to face: the world mostly sets us up for failure. That’s the sad fact of things right now. I think Kenoi has the right idea. The “adults” running the world mostly have no clue what they’re doing, so we shouldn’t hold ourselves to their mostly senseless standards. As autists, we need to redefine our lives on our own terms, and that starts with knowing ourselves—our unique gifts and limitations. Even then, it’s not easy to deal with all the practical matters of living in the “adult” world. But as more and more of us attempt to redefine things for ourselves, we’ll all make it easier for each other to do that. Who knows—with enough of us pulling together, we could actually make being an adult a good thing someday!

  5. This piece really speaks to me. I am 46 years old, a divorced father of one, but in many ways, many days, I do not feel like an adult.

  6. I discovered the hard way that trying to be an adult by the rules of general society when your starting point includes a slightly defective body in addition to undiagnosed autism can, and in my case WILL, end you up with a really defective body, burnout, and ME/CFS, where your days of living the standardized first world adult life are forced to a sudden screeching halt. That’s it. Those days and that life are over and done with. Oh well. I take what’s left and go on as I can.

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