Parenting Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The transition from teenager to young adulthood can be stressful for parents, as there are many unknowns and shifts in roles. The transition can be even more challenging when the young adult has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Young adults with ASD are more likely to experience “failure to launch” and struggle with the transition from high school to adulthood.

Parents have a natural inclination to protect and provide for their children, which can actually inhibit a young adult’s ability to foster independence. As children transition into young adulthood, the parental role may shift from protecting and providing to coaching and mentoring. This article highlights strategies for parenting and empowering young adults with ASD, including teaching foundational skills, identifying goals and expectations, understanding natural consequences, and supporting self-advocacy.

Teach Foundational Skills

Often times, families focus on the big goals of finding a job/volunteer work or pursuing higher education after high school. However, there are many foundational, daily living skills that are an integral part of adulthood. Big goals sometimes cannot be achieved because these foundational skills are not in place. Therefore, it is important to teach these skills starting in the teenage years. Examples of these foundational skills include:

  • Preparing meals
  • Medication management
  • Budgeting and money management
  • Maintaining personal hygiene
  • Laundry
  • Creating and adhering to routines

Identify Goals and Expectations

The transition to young adulthood can occur more smoothly if parents and children collaboratively identify realistic goals and expectations. Create SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals that revolve around social and emotional skills, academics, foundational skills, and job/volunteer work.

For example, parents may want their young adult to start waking up for class on their own. Rather than having a goal of “Don’t oversleep in the morning,” a SMART goal can be, “Wake up for class at 8 am without help from parents.” Parents and young adults can work together to implement strategies to help achieve this goal (e.g., go to sleep at a set time each night; use an alarm clock).

Understand Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are ones that arise naturally in response to a behavior. For instance, if a young adult does not wake up on time, they may miss their bus, be late for class, and eventually fail the course. If the natural consequence matters to the young adult, then allowing them to occur increases the likelihood that the young adult will change their behavior. Failing a class may motivate the young adult to make a change.

If a consequence is not motivating the young adult, then it is important to find one that does matter. For example, many young adults value access to electronic devices and media. Parents typically continue to pay for their young adult’s cell phone, electronic devices, internet, video games, etc. Consequently, access to electronic devices can be contingent upon completing a SMART goal.

Support Self-Advocacy

It is important for parents to acknowledge their young adult’s self-advocacy and identity. Parents may have the inclination to continue making choices for their young adult child about a number of areas. However, in order to help empower young adults, it is important to support them as they make independent choices.

Parents can also help young adults as they learn how to solve their own problems and challenges. For example, a young adult may be experiencing challenges at their workplace due to auditory sensitivities. The young adult may wish to discuss possible accommodations with their boss. Parents can help their young adult by role-playing this encounter. This can help the young adult identify what their needs are as well as provide them with language and strategies that they can use during a conversation with their boss.


The transition to young adulthood can be stressful for parents as they learn to navigate many unknowns and changes in role expectations. The transition can be particularly challenging for young adults with autism spectrum disorder. By adhering to their natural inclination to protect and provide, parents can actually inhibit their young adult’s progress and independence. In order to support and empower young adults with ASD, parents can teach foundational skills, identify goals, understand consequences, and support self-advocacy.

Providers at Upside Therapy can help work with you and your young adult during the transition to adulthood. If you are interested in individual therapy or would like to consult with a provider, please call 972-519-1692 or email There are also life transition programs (see below) that help parents and young adults navigate this developmental period.

Additional Resources



Bal, V. H., Kim, S. H., Cheong, D., & Lord, C. (2015). Daily living skills in individuals with autism spectrum disorder from 2 to 21 years of age. Autism, 19(7), 774–784.

Carr, M. E., Moore, D. W., & Anderson, A. (2014). Goal setting interventions: Implications for participants on the Autism Spectrum. Rev J Autism Dev Disord, 1, 225–241

Cribb, S., Kenny, L., & Pellicano, E. (2019). “I definitely feel more in control of my life”: The perspectives of young autistic people and their parents in emerging adulthood. Autism, 23(7).

Fullerton, A., & Coyne, P. (1999). Developing skills and concepts for self-determination in young adults with Autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 14(1).

Nelson, L. J., Padilla-Walker, L. M., Christensen, K. J., Evans, C. A., & Carroll, J.S., (2011). Parenting in emerging adulthood: An examination of parenting clusters and correlates. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 730–743.