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How Autism Affects Adult Daily Life

Discover how autism affects daily life in adults. From relationships to workplace challenges, gain insights into the unique struggles and transitions.

Impact on Relationships

Living with autism can have a significant impact on an individual's relationships, including social interactions and levels of loneliness. Understanding these challenges is crucial for creating a supportive and inclusive environment.

Social Interactions

Autistic individuals sometimes approach relationships and social interactions in ways that may differ from neurotypical people, leading to frustration and misunderstandings. They may struggle with reading social cues that others consider commonplace, making it difficult to interpret nonverbal communication and understand social expectations.

For example, an autistic individual may have difficulty recognizing facial expressions or understanding subtle changes in tone of voice. This can lead to misunderstandings and the unintentional breaking of social norms, impacting relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners.

Levels of Loneliness

Autistic adults often experience higher levels of loneliness compared to their neurotypical peers. The challenges they face in social interactions, such as difficulties understanding social cues and norms, can contribute to feelings of isolation and exclusion.

It is important to recognize and address these feelings of loneliness to support the mental well-being of autistic individuals. Creating opportunities for social connection and providing a supportive network can help mitigate the impact of loneliness.

Understanding and accommodating the unique social needs of autistic individuals is crucial for fostering healthy relationships. By promoting open communication, patience, and empathy, we can create an inclusive environment that supports the social well-being of autistic adults.

Challenges in Daily Life

Living with autism can present unique challenges in daily life for adults. These challenges can affect various aspects of life, including social interactions, consistency, and mental well-being.

Reading Social Cues

Autistic individuals may have difficulty reading social cues that neurotypical people consider commonplace. This can lead to misunderstandings and difficulties in social interactions. They may struggle to interpret facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, which are essential for understanding others' emotions and intentions. As a result, autistic individuals may find it challenging to navigate social situations and establish meaningful connections.

Desire for Consistency

One characteristic commonly observed in individuals with autism is a strong desire for consistency. Autistic adults may find it challenging to adapt to changes in schedules or plans, as they prefer a structured and predictable environment. This desire for consistency can sometimes conflict with their partner's sense of spontaneity, causing tension in relationships. It is important for both partners to communicate openly and find a balance between consistency and flexibility.

Stress and Anxiety

Autistic individuals often experience higher levels of stress and anxiety compared to their neurotypical peers. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including difficulties with social interactions, sensory sensitivities, and the challenges associated with navigating daily life [1]. The tendency to overanalyze situations and the struggle to cope with change can contribute to elevated stress levels. Additionally, high levels of stress and anxiety can impact sleep patterns, further affecting overall well-being.

It is important to recognize and address the challenges faced by autistic adults in daily life. By understanding their unique needs and providing support, we can create a more inclusive and understanding society.

Sensory Overload

For individuals with autism, sensory overload can be a significant challenge that impacts their daily lives. Two key aspects to consider are sensory processing disorder and the impact it has on various activities.

Sensory Processing Disorder

Many autistic individuals experience sensory processing disorder, a condition in which the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to sensory information from the environment. This can make activities like going to restaurants, movies, and shopping malls difficult or even intolerable [2].

Sensory issues are common in people with autism and are included in the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Each autistic person is unique, including their personal sensory sensitivities. Autistic individuals can experience both hypersensitivity (over-responsiveness) and hyposensitivity (under-responsiveness) to various stimuli, with many individuals having a combination of both [3].

Impact on Activities

The impact of sensory overload on daily activities can vary from person to person. Certain environments or stimuli that are tolerable for neurotypical individuals may be overwhelming for those with autism. Here are some examples of how sensory overload can affect different activities:

Activity Impact of Sensory Overload
Going to a busy shopping mall Overwhelming noise, bright lights, and crowded spaces can cause anxiety and discomfort
Attending a social gathering Difficulty filtering out background noise, leading to difficulty focusing on conversations
Visiting a restaurant Strong smells, loud conversations, and clattering dishes can be overwhelming
Watching a movie in a theater Loud sound effects and bright screens can be overpowering

It's important to note that everyone with autism has their own unique sensory sensitivities, and what may be overwhelming for one individual may not be the same for another. Understanding and accommodating these sensitivities can greatly improve the daily life experiences of individuals with autism.

By recognizing the challenges posed by sensory overload, individuals with autism and their caregivers can take steps to create sensory-friendly environments and develop coping strategies to minimize its impact. This may include using noise-canceling headphones, seeking out quieter and less crowded spaces, and employing relaxation techniques to manage sensory overload.

Workplace Challenges

Individuals with autism may face unique challenges in the workplace that can impact their daily life. Understanding these challenges is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive work environment. Three key areas of difficulty include social skills, time management, and sensory issues.

Social Skills

Communication and social skills can be challenging for individuals with autism, both during the interview process and in the workplace. It is important to identify and practice communication skills, as well as adjust communication methods to reduce misunderstandings.

Building positive relationships with colleagues and superiors can be particularly difficult. Autistic individuals may struggle with interpreting nonverbal cues, understanding social norms, and engaging in small talk. Encouraging open and direct communication, providing clear instructions, and offering social skills training can support the development of social skills in the workplace.

Time Management

Time management is an area of weakness for many adults with autism. Difficulty with executive functioning skills, such as planning, prioritizing, and organizing tasks, can make it challenging to stay on track and meet deadlines.

Using time management tools and strategies can significantly assist individuals with autism in the workplace. Creating lists of daily job duties, setting reminders or alarms, and breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can help individuals stay organized and focused. Employers can provide support by clarifying expectations, providing structured routines, and offering guidance on time management techniques.

Sensory Issues

Many adults with autism experience sensory issues that can significantly impact their daily life, including their performance in the workplace. Sensory sensitivities can vary from person to person, with some individuals being hypersensitive (over-responsive) and others being hyposensitive (under-responsive) to various stimuli.

In the workplace, sensory issues can manifest as difficulties in coping with bright lights, background noise, strong smells, or tactile sensations. These challenges can lead to sensory overload, distraction, and increased stress levels. Requesting accommodations, such as sitting in a quieter area, using noise-canceling headphones, or adjusting lighting, can help individuals manage sensory issues and create a more comfortable work environment [4].

Understanding and addressing the workplace challenges related to social skills, time management, and sensory issues can contribute to better support and inclusivity for individuals with autism. By providing appropriate accommodations, fostering clear communication, and promoting understanding among coworkers, employers can create an environment that allows individuals with autism to thrive in their professional lives.

Transitioning in Life

Transitioning from one phase of life to another can be a significant challenge for individuals on the autism spectrum. Proper planning and support during these transitions are essential to ensure a smooth adjustment and reduce stress. In this section, we will explore two aspects of transitioning in life: transition planning and vertical transitions.

Transition Planning

Transition planning plays a crucial role in preparing individuals on the autism spectrum for upcoming changes. It involves creating strategies and supports to help them navigate major life transitions successfully. Transition planning is beneficial for building resilience, reducing stress, and preventing behavioral issues that may arise due to expected or unexpected changes.

Effective transition planning often utilizes visual supports, schedules, and social stories to provide individuals with a clear understanding of what to expect during the transition process. Visual strategies such as Social Stories™, social scripts, task lists, and schedules can be highly effective tools in communication and preparation for everyday changes.

By involving the individual, their support network, and professionals, transition planning can address the unique needs and challenges that may arise during major life transitions. This proactive approach helps individuals with autism navigate the changes with greater confidence and adaptability.

Vertical Transitions

Vertical transitions refer to progressions from one life phase to another. These transitions can pose specific challenges for individuals on the autism spectrum, such as moving from primary school to high school. Good practice guidelines exist to help prepare for these major life transitions in autism.

During vertical transitions, individuals may face new academic, social, and environmental demands. To support a successful transition, it's important to provide comprehensive planning, clear expectations, and appropriate resources. This may include developing individualized transition plans, providing additional support in the new setting, and fostering open communication between the individual, their families, and educators.

By recognizing and addressing the challenges that arise during vertical transitions, individuals on the autism spectrum can better navigate these significant life changes and maximize their potential for success.

Transition planning and vertical transitions are critical components in supporting individuals on the autism spectrum as they move through different phases of life. By implementing effective strategies and providing necessary resources, we can help them embrace new opportunities, build resilience, and navigate life's transitions with confidence.

Employment Struggles

For autistic adults, finding and maintaining employment can be a significant challenge. Several factors contribute to the employment struggles faced by individuals on the autism spectrum. This section explores some of these challenges, including underemployment, the importance of autism-friendly employers, and the role of preparation and support.


According to Verywell Health, most autistic adults are underemployed, with approximately half of them being employed. Many autistic individuals find themselves in part-time jobs or positions for which they are overqualified. Some may engage in volunteer work or participate in programs outside of the mainstream.

Autism-Friendly Employers

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition among large corporations of the value of hiring employees on the autism spectrum. Companies such as Ernst & Young, SAP, and Ford have established autism-friendly outreach programs. These programs aim to leverage the unique strengths and abilities of autistic individuals. Smaller businesses, like Rising Tide in Florida, also focus on creating employment opportunities that align with the abilities of autistic employees.

Preparation and Support

Preparation and support play crucial roles in the success of young autistic adults in finding and maintaining employment. It is essential for autistic individuals and their caregivers to be aware of the available support and stay updated on employers advancing neurodiversity programs. By being prepared and informed, autistic individuals can seize opportunities as they arise and navigate the challenges in the job search process effectively [6].

The availability and quality of adult services for autistic individuals can vary by location in the United States. States differ in terms of funding and the presence of disability-friendly employers. Cities on the coasts, such as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, often have more resources for autistic individuals compared to states like West Virginia, Kentucky, and Maine [6].

The current employment system in the United States may not provide sufficient opportunities that align with the abilities of autistic adults. Even if an autistic adult excels in a specific skill, such as mathematics, they may struggle to find a job if they cannot apply those skills to a specific function, such as accounting or statistics [6].

Addressing the employment struggles faced by autistic adults requires efforts from various stakeholders, including employers, support services, and policymakers. By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, providing appropriate training and accommodations, and recognizing the unique talents of autistic individuals, society can create better opportunities for employment and enhance the overall well-being of autistic adults.








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