The Daily Life Impact of Autism on Adults

July 2, 2024

Discover how autism affects daily life for adults. From managing sensory overload to employment challenges, gain insights for thriving with autism.

Autism and Daily Life Challenges

Living with autism presents unique challenges that can impact daily life for adults. Two significant areas of challenge are the impact of anxiety and sensory processing differences.

Impact of Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most frequently co-occurring mental health concerns in individuals with autism. Prevalence rates of anxiety in autistic individuals are at least five times higher than in the general population. The experience of anxiety can vary widely among individuals with autism, but it often manifests as excessive worry, fear, or apprehension.

For adults with autism, anxiety can significantly affect various aspects of daily life. It can interfere with social interactions, making it challenging to form and maintain relationships. Anxiety may also disrupt daily routines and activities, leading to difficulties in managing responsibilities and achieving personal goals. The impact of anxiety on daily life can vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the individual's ability to cope.

Sensory Processing Differences

Sensory processing differences are another common aspect of autism that can greatly influence daily life. Many individuals with autism experience atypical sensory processing, with estimates ranging from 69% to 93% prevalence within the autistic population. This means that they perceive and respond to sensory stimuli differently compared to individuals without autism.

Sensory hyperresponsiveness, where sensory stimuli are experienced more intensely, is a common feature of autism [1]. This heightened sensitivity to sensory input can lead to discomfort, overwhelm, and even pain in response to everyday environmental stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures. On the other hand, some individuals with autism may experience sensory hyposensitivity, where they have reduced sensitivity to sensory input.

Effective sensory processing is vital for managing stress and appropriately assessing dangerous situations. When sensory processing differences are present, it can be challenging for adults with autism to navigate their surroundings and engage in daily activities. Sensory overload, caused by an overwhelming amount of sensory input, can lead to feelings of distress and may impact an individual's ability to concentrate, communicate, and engage in social interactions.

Understanding the impact of anxiety and sensory processing differences on daily life is crucial for providing appropriate support and accommodations to individuals with autism. By recognizing these challenges, it becomes possible to develop strategies and interventions that can help individuals with autism thrive in their daily lives.

Daily Living Skills in Autism

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder often face challenges in various aspects of daily living. These challenges can impact their ability to independently perform essential tasks. In this section, we will explore the impairments in daily living skills commonly observed in individuals with autism, predictors of daily living skills attainment, and strategies for teaching these skills.

Impairments in Daily Living Skills

Research suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder may exhibit impairments in daily living skills relative to their cognitive abilities [2]. Daily living skills encompass a wide range of activities, including personal hygiene, self-care, meal preparation, household chores, and time management. Difficulties in these areas can significantly affect an individual's overall independence and quality of life.

Predictors of Daily Living Skills Attainment

Several factors can influence the attainment of daily living skills in individuals with autism. One significant predictor is the individual's early childhood nonverbal mental age, which has been found to be the strongest predictor of daily living skills attainment. Other factors, such as cognitive abilities, communication skills, sensory processing, and social interaction abilities, may also contribute to the development of daily living skills.

Strategies for Teaching Daily Living Skills

Teaching daily living skills to individuals with autism involves a structured and systematic approach. Occupational therapists play a crucial role in assisting individuals in developing awareness of these skills and providing guidance on incorporating them into daily life [3].

Some effective strategies for teaching daily living skills include:

1. Breaking tasks down:

Breaking complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps can help individuals with autism understand and perform them more effectively. This step-by-step approach allows for skill acquisition and promotes independence.

2. Teaching backwards:

In some cases, teaching daily living skills in reverse order, starting with the last step and working backward, can be beneficial. This approach may be easier for individuals with autism to follow.

3. Providing visual supports:

Using visual supports, such as visual schedules, checklists, and task reminders, can aid in organizing daily routines and activities. Visual supports provide individuals with a clear visual representation of the steps involved in a task, helping them understand and complete the task more independently.

4. Offering extra support:

Individuals with autism may benefit from additional support and guidance when learning daily living skills. This can include verbal cues, prompts, modeling, and hands-on assistance as needed. The level of support should gradually decrease as the individual gains proficiency in the skill.

By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism can develop their daily living skills and increase their independence in various aspects of their lives. Occupational therapists and other professionals specializing in autism can provide tailored guidance and support to address specific challenges and promote skill development.

Managing Daily Activities

Living with autism can present unique challenges in managing daily activities. Individuals with autism may experience difficulties in coping with sensory overload, navigating social interactions, and managing executive functioning tasks.

Coping with Sensory Overload

Autistic adults and children with low support needs may experience sensory overload, making it challenging for them to tolerate noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch. This heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli can impact various daily activities such as going to restaurants, movies, shopping malls, and other public spaces. To cope with sensory overload, individuals with autism may employ strategies such as wearing noise-canceling headphones, using sunglasses to reduce glare, or seeking quiet and calm environments.

Social Interaction Challenges

Recognizing social cues and body language can be challenging for individuals with high-functioning autism, making social interactions confusing and difficult. These challenges can affect their ability to make friends, maintain relationships, find and keep a job, and navigate dating. To navigate social interactions, individuals with autism may benefit from social skills training programs, therapy, or using visual aids such as social stories or cue cards to help them understand and interpret social cues.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

Many individuals with high-functioning autism struggle with executive functioning, which includes tasks like organizing, planning, and managing daily routines. Difficulties in this area can impact various aspects of daily life, such as caring for living spaces, coping with schedule changes, and completing long-term projects. To support executive functioning, individuals with autism may benefit from using visual schedules, checklists, or smartphone apps to help with organization and time management. Breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps can also be helpful in overcoming executive functioning challenges.

Understanding and addressing these challenges in managing daily activities can greatly enhance the quality of life for individuals with autism. By implementing strategies and accommodations tailored to their unique needs, individuals with autism can navigate daily tasks more effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

Employment and Autism

Finding suitable employment can be a significant challenge for adults with autism. Many autistic adults are underemployed, with only about half of them being employed and often holding part-time jobs or positions for which they are overqualified. In this section, we will explore the employment challenges faced by autistic individuals, as well as the programs and initiatives aimed at supporting their transition into adulthood.

Employment Challenges

Securing suitable and fulfilling employment poses various challenges for autistic adults. These challenges can include difficulties with social interactions, sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning skills. Autistic individuals may experience challenges in job interviews, understanding workplace dynamics, and adapting to changes in routine. Additionally, they may face discrimination and a lack of understanding about their unique strengths and abilities.

Transition-to-Adulthood Programs

Transition-to-adulthood programs play a crucial role in supporting autistic individuals as they navigate the challenges of adulthood. These programs aim to help individuals with autism develop the necessary skills for independent living and employment. However, the availability and resources of such programs vary by location. While schools in the United States are mandated to provide free and appropriate education until the age of 22 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), adult services for autistic individuals are not entitlements and can vary significantly between states.

Corporate Neurodiversity Programs

In recent years, there has been a growing trend toward neurodiversity programs initiated by large corporations and smaller companies alike. Some companies, such as Ernst & Young, SAP, and Ford, have implemented programs specifically aimed at hiring autistic adults with skills in areas like math and focus. These programs recognize and value the unique strengths and abilities of autistic individuals. Smaller companies, like Rising Tide, are also building businesses around the talents of autistic employees. These initiatives signify a positive shift towards more inclusive employment opportunities for autistic individuals.

By addressing the employment challenges faced by autistic adults and providing support through transition-to-adulthood programs and corporate neurodiversity initiatives, society can create more inclusive work environments that tap into the talents and abilities of individuals on the autism spectrum. It is essential to continue advocating for equal employment opportunities and to raise awareness about the strengths and contributions that autistic individuals can bring to the workforce.

Daily Organization Strategies

When it comes to daily life, individuals with autism may face challenges in organizing and prioritizing tasks. However, there are various strategies and tools that can help them navigate daily activities more effectively. In this section, we will explore some of these strategies, including visual supports and tools, managing finances, and educational support strategies.

Visual Supports and Tools

Visual supports and tools are essential for individuals with autism to understand and manage their daily schedules and tasks. These supports can include pictures, written lists, calendars, and color coding. By utilizing visual aids, individuals with autism can better comprehend their routines and prioritize their tasks.

Color coding is an effective technique to prioritize tasks and provide visual cues for different activities. Assigning specific colors to various tasks or categories helps individuals focus on what needs to be done first. Furthermore, voice recording, lists, alarms, and alerts are beneficial tools for managing tasks and reminders effectively. These tools can be used either with assistance initially or independently over time.

Managing Finances

Managing finances can be a challenge for autistic adults. To support their financial management, specific guidelines and instructions can be helpful in areas such as budgeting, controlling spending, and paying bills. Providing detailed instructions and consequences for spending can aid in managing finances effectively [6].

By creating a structured approach to financial management, individuals with autism can gain a better understanding of money and develop skills to handle their finances independently. This may involve setting up routines for recording expenses, creating budgets, and establishing clear guidelines for responsible spending.

Educational Support Strategies

In educational settings, there are various support strategies that can assist individuals with autism in staying organized and managing their academic responsibilities. Communication books, online learning environments, and voice recordings are valuable tools that can help reduce pressure and provide guidance in understanding instructions, assignments, and deadlines. These strategies ensure that individuals receive the necessary support and structure to navigate their educational journey successfully.

Social stories™ and comic strip conversations are additional methods that can be employed to illustrate the importance of organization, deadlines, and time management. These tools help individuals with autism understand the consequences of their actions and the benefits of being organized, promoting better engagement and participation in their educational pursuits [6].

By implementing these strategies and tools, individuals with autism can enhance their organizational skills, manage their finances effectively, and receive the necessary support to succeed in their educational endeavors. These approaches aim to empower individuals with autism to navigate daily life with increased confidence and independence.

Long-Term Impact

As adults with autism navigate daily life, they may face unique challenges that can have a long-term impact on their overall well-being. In this section, we will explore the decline in daily living skills, factors influencing education and employment, and strategies for enhancing employment outcomes for individuals with autism.

Decline in Daily Living Skills

Research suggests that autistic individuals may experience a decline in their daily living skills after leaving high school. A longitudinal study found that daily living skills tended to improve through age 21, albeit more slowly compared to their peers without autism or developmental delays. However, progress in these skills tends to slow down after high school when individuals age out of support programs available during their childhood and adolescence.

Maintaining daily living skills becomes increasingly important as individuals transition into adulthood. Those who maintain more abilities relative to their peers are more likely to pursue further education, which can open doors to greater opportunities. Daily living skills also influence the likelihood of employment for adults with autism, although to a lesser extent than the severity of their autism traits does [7].

Factors Influencing Education and Employment

In terms of education and employment, several factors come into play for adults with autism. A study found that at age 26, adults with autism fell into two categories: those with fewer daily living skills were less likely to pursue additional education or employment, regardless of their intelligence quotient. Employment outcomes were more correlated with scores on a measure of autism severity than with daily living skills, indicating that social difficulties play a crucial role in obtaining and maintaining a job for autistic individuals.

Enhancing Employment Outcomes

To enhance employment outcomes for adults with autism, various strategies can be employed. Programs that assist autistic individuals in navigating the hiring process and the workplace can provide valuable support. Additionally, providing information to employers on effective ways to work with autistic individuals can be beneficial. Research suggests that interviewers' opinions of autistic interviewees improved after updating interview questions based on feedback from the interviewees.

It is important for future studies to identify which daily living skills are most vital for adults' success. Exploring how these skills and outcomes differ in individuals residing in countries with varying support services can help determine the most effective forms of support. Researchers are also working on assessing less tangible indicators of quality of life in adulthood, such as engaging in enjoyable and independent activities, through tools designed to evaluate the well-being of autistic adults.

By understanding the long-term impact of autism on daily living skills, education, and employment, we can strive to provide better support and create inclusive environments that enable individuals with autism to thrive.


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