TWAP026: Emerging Adulthood: Why Ignoring It Will Cost You

And What To Do Instead

1. Download the Top 10 Online Resources for Transitioning To Adulthood
a. Enter '0' to get the resource free b) Entering your email will sign you up for my free newsletter as well


It’s the long-awaited day.

Graduation! The first step of emerging adulthood.

If you’re a young person on the spectrum, you may be excited that this day is finally here.

If you’re a parent, you’re excited about the possibilities for the future.

Six months later, one year later, or many years later, you may wonder what happened to that excitement.

Instead, there’s a dull realization that nothing’s happened.

If you’re a young person, you’re struggling with the difficult aspects of adulthood. A lot of the supports that were there in high school no longer exist.

If you’re a parent, you struggle to know what the right thing to do is.

Ignoring emerging adulthood will cost you. But if you face it head on, you can conquer the overwhelm of the transition.

What’s Emerging Adulthood?

Emerging adulthood is a phrase of the life span between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood which encompasses late adolescence and early adulthood. Dr. Jeffrey Arnett proposed this definition in a 2000 article in the research journal, American Psychologist.

In his article, What is Emerging Adulthood? And Why It Explains your Twenties, Paul Angone summarizes emerging adulthood characteristics:

Career Confusion

Because of rapid layoff and lack of jobs, emerging adults often find that their bachelor’s degrees don’t do much for them.


Arnett found that emerging adults spent more time alone than any persons except the elderly.

I don’t know if that’s changed much in the sixteen years since he’s did that research.

Despite making many connections online, many young adults find themselves disconnected from others in real life.

Emerging Adulthood and Aspergers/Autism

Overlap this trend with Aspergers/autism, and it helps to know that transitioning to adulthood will often take longer for those on the spectrum.

M. Kelter, Aspergers blogger, wrote about 10 things he needed to hear while growing up on the spectrum.

I highlight the first one on his list, because I feel it’s the most important one to pay attention to –

“You will hit social/developmental milestones in your own time, in your own way…and there’s nothing wrong with that. Ignore those who say otherwise.”

Because each person has asynchronous development (meaning some skills may be further ahead than others your age, while other skills may be lagging behind), it may take longer to master certain aspects of independent living.

It’s important for both parents and young people (all of us!) to understand this, and to extend grace and compassion to themselves and ourselves, when it comes to this whole “growing up” thing.

But Ignoring Emerging Adulthood Is Not The Answer

a) If you ignore emerging adulthood, you won’t know what skills you need to “grow up”

In the article, “As More With Autism Near Adulthood, Clues To Success Emerge“, author Michelle Diament cited a study presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City.

What’s the biggest predictor of success for people with autism in adulthood? Researchers say it might not be what you’d expect.

The ability to do everyday, self-care activities like bathing, cleaning and cooking trumped other factors like symptom severity and intellectual functioning, according to findings from a new study being presented this week at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Salt Lake City.

Besides self-care skills, there are other skill areas to consider when transitioning to adulthood:

  • maintaining health relationships
  • work and study habits
  • driving and/or using public transportation
  • budgeting and paying bills

b) If you ignore emerging adulthood, you’re at higher risk for depression and anxiety.

Avoidance breeds anxiety.

In this article from Psychiatry Advisor about Anxiety Disorders in Emerging Adulthood, the authors point out that the aim of treating anxiety is to

“reduce anxiety symptoms by gradually exposing the youth to their anxiety triggers, to increase tolerance to uncomfortable situations, and to learn coping and adaptation skills. Individuals work in groups and individual therapy to set goals, improve communication skills, and practice facing and engaging in age-appropriate independent tasks. The families focus on encouraging independence and disengaging from unhelpful compensatory behaviors.”

When any of us struggle to perform skills needed for adulthood in everyday society, we’ll feel both anxious, and over time depressed. By identifying the skills we need and making a plan to develop those skills, we’ll be building competence.

As we feel more competent, our self-esteem will go up.

Here’s an powerful Ted-X talk about the science of self-motivation:

Young people and parents, here are 3 questions to ask, based on self-motivation research, about life skills.

a) Can you do it? Do you believe you can do it?

Do you have the time, knowledge, and training to do it

b) Will it work? Do you believe that it will work?

Believing that the behavior will lead to the desired outcome.
Training helps a person learn a behavior, in which they get feedback.

c) Is it worth it?

Do you believe the consequences of applying your skills will result in an outcome you desire?

If you answer “yes” to the above three questions, you are most likely to feel competent, and therefore self-motivated.

Implications for yourself and for parents:

  • Try out new skills and get feedback.
  • Give yourself positive recognition (or, as a parent, give your young person positive recognition)
  • Get the training you need to learn the life skills.
  • Empower yourself/ your child to make a choice
  • Become part of a community who will encourage you (hint: contact me to be added to the Thrive with Aspergers community!)

When any of us struggle to perform skills needed for adulthood in everyday society, we’ll feel both anxious, and over time depressed. By identifying the skills we need and getting help to develop them, we’ll be building competence.

One person on Wrong Planet told me (with permission to quote here)

Self-care: I still struggle with this–especially when I get overwhelmed. My parents were lenient. I had no chores growing up. It has been difficult for me to learn basic things life cooking and cleaning.

My takeaway, as a parent and therapist, is to be realistic and affirming of the young person with autism, but also to work together with that young person to set independent living skill goals to strive toward.

Acknowledge Emerging Adulthood and Start Making The Transition

1. Think about all the progress you’ve made to date.

Whether you’re a young adult, or the parent of a young adult, think about all the progress you’ve made!

Too often, in the midst of the stress of transitioning to adulthood, both young parents and parents can forget the many positive gains made to date.

Celebrate all the skills you have learned!

2. Take a self assessment!

Recently, inspired by this topic, I asked my son to take the Casey Life Skills Survey. There are no right or wrong answers.

If you’re the parent, register as a provider. Once you’re registered, you can then add your son or daughter as a participant.

Or, if you’re a young person, have your parent register as a provider and add you as a user.

This life skills inventory was designed for people in the foster-care system.

However, I found that taking the survey has been a very easy way to help young adults figure out a baseline of their adult living skills.

The survey measures the following areas:

  • Maintaining healthy relationships
  • Work and study habits
  • Planning and goal-setting
  • Using community resources
  • Daily living activities
  • Budgeting and paying bills
  • Computer literacy

This practice guide (available once you create your free account, under the Help and Training Tab) shows you how to give the test:

a) First, you encourage your young person to take the assessment.

b) Then you and your spouse take the assessment, thinking about your son or daughter’s skill levels for each area.

c) Review your youth’s assessment results. Be sure to review the positive strengths, but then also the gaps, or what’s missing.

d) Talk with each other!

As a parent, talk with your son or daughter about where their at. You can then have creative conversations about how to help move toward mastering those skills at a pace that is comfortable for them.

e) The very best part!

Resources to Inspire Guide. You get this, once more, by signing up and creating your own account. You can set goals and activities that will help you, together, master the skills that are lacking.

Call To Action:

  1. Download my free resource.
1. Download the Top 10 Online Resources for Transitioning To Adulthood
a. Enter '0' to get the resource free b) Entering your email will sign you up for my free newsletter as well

2. Go to the Casey Skills Survey site. If you’re a parent, mentor, or provider, sign up for a free account. You can then enter a young person’s name and create an account for her/him. Again, here’s a link to the site.

3. Once you’ve taken the skills survey, use the Resources to Inspire Guide to design a personal growth plan.

4. Don’t get overwhelmed. Target one life skill per month and go to work on it. Celebrate your progress, and be patient with yourself.

5. Connect with others. Don’t go through this journey alone! Go to WrongPlanet and sign up for your own login/account. It’s free! You can sign up as yourself or with a pseudonym. Also, join me in our new closed, secret Facebook group. You’ll need to contact me and provide your email so that I can sign you up for my newsletter and also so that I can send you an invite to the group.

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music credit: Little Lily Swing

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I'm Steve Borgman. I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

Are you tired of feeling alone, like you're the only one in this world? Please join the Thrive with Aspergers Community to connect with others just like you!

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