Treating Young Adults with ASD-What They Need

Lately, I’ve seen a need to address those people who work with young adults with
autism. I recently wrote a chapter for a book which is written specifically for therapists and other professionals who work with this population.  Unfortunately, many of these therapists have little training or experience working with individuals with autism. They don’t know how to talk to them and often don’t know what those with ASD truly want and need. These therapists may spend an inordinate amount of time addressing the feelings of the person with autism and encourage that person to talk until they discover how to solve their own problems.  That’s often what psychologists do. Unfortunately, individuals with autism have a very difficult time problem solving, self-reflecting, and understanding the feelings of others.  They may be experiencing severe anxiety and depression, which is typically inherent in autism, and their anxiety and depression may prevent them from being motivated to change or to care about themselves or others.  This is the first of a two-part article on the wants of needs of young adults with autism and how to treat them.


Young adults with autism are faced with a sad situation when they graduate from high school, usually between the ages of 18-22. Their world changes dramatically because they no longer have the daily structure and routine of school. The loss they feel can be tremendous, since they not only lose their purpose as a student, but even more important they lose their peer relationships and school friends.

Many of these young adults with ASD stay home, often with little to do.  If they can’t or won’t attempt to get a job, their lives may become centered around computer/video games,  online sites and their own peculiar interests. Their dependency on caregivers increases, as well as their egocentric demands .  What friends they have are probably online.  Many of them are unmotivated and may suffer from anxiety and depression. As a result, they often can’t or won’t attempt anything new, such as a job or community college, or any new activities. Change of any kind is hard for them. It’s a bleak future for them unless there are more options to address their wants and needs.

As I’ve said before, anxiety and depression is a huge concern with this population.  Suicide by young adults with autism is at least double that of their neuro-typical peers.  It’s practically an epidemic! Concerned parents may send their adolescent and adult kids with ASD to therapists, psychologists and even psychiatrists to try to help them feel happy, motivated and fulfilled.  But what do these ASD individuals want and need most of all?

It may surprise most people to learn that these ASD adults typically want what everyone else wants.  They want friends and intimate relationships(boyfriends/girlfriends), a job they would be comfortable doing, perhaps more education(college or technical training), and more control and independence in their lives. And many of them want relief from the inherent anxiety and depression associated with autism, which is often keeping them trapped in their homes and unable to get out in the world.

So, what do they want and need:

  1. More authentic relationships and real, long-lasting friendships. We all want and need friends, and so do people with ASD.  Many of them are lonely and afraid. Many of them have tried and failed at friendship, but it is still something they want and need.
  2.  Intimate relationships–  Most adults with ASD want a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Some will say they want to get married or have a long-term intimate relationship. They need someone who will love them(other than family members) for who they are.
  3. A job, a purpose, an activity or interest which is fulfilling to them. Whether they have a paid job or volunteer their help, people with ASD need to do meaningful activities. Playing online games all day can be fun, but it’s not meaningful or ultimately fulfilling.  Eventually, such non-meaningful, selfish activities can result in increased isolation, depression and addiction, and will close them off to others.
  4. They need active treatment or therapy to combat anxiety and depression. Anxiety can become a huge factor in their lives, effecting everything they do.  Anxiety and its evil twin depression, cause isolation, fear, overwhelming sadness, lack of motivation and caring, feeling as if you have no control over anything, and suicidal thoughts. If a young adult with ASD is exhibiting anxiety and depression, it’s essential that these problems are addressed before anything else.
  5. Opportunities to connect with others: clubs, organizations, classes, teams, and any social opportunities. Social interaction skills will always be a challenge to them, but the more practice they have interacting in various situations, the more comfortable and confident they will become.

I’ll talk more about treatment in my next blog.  Until then, let me now if you have any questions about this topic.