Autistic teenagers experiences are not the same across-the-board. Even so, there are some similarities within autistic young adult life. Some autistic people are diagnosed in childhood; some in their teen years; and others can only look back at adolescence with 20/20 hindsight as we recognize the traits that were missed.
Observing adolescence through an autistic lens can lead to a better understanding of our routines and coping strategies. The teen years set us up for adulthood, and the sensory, social, and emotional struggles we faced during that time can provide clarity for our current needs. Here are a few young adult autistic traits, my personal experiences with these traits, and how these traits manifest in me today.
1) Dominating social activities. In my adolescence, I was the student that raised her hand nonstop. I completed group projects alone. I didn’t understand the intricacies of conversational turn-taking. Today, I can become frustrated during work meetings. I have many ideas that I never voice, because I worry that I’ll be rejected.
2) Using speech in an unusual way. Due to social mimicry, my voice rapidly transformed into a medley of my friends and idols’ accents. I also made up words. These days, I have to watch myself, or I’ll slip into various dialects or use out-of-context phrases from games or movies.
3) Struggling to negotiate friendships. Middle school brought about a cycle of bullying and friendlessness. I made friends only to lose them and was teased for my awkwardness. In reality, I was unaware of social cues & norms, and being punished for it. Even today, it takes a lot of effort to maintain friendships, and I fear losing friends abruptly.
4) Melting down at home but being “perfectly behaved” at school. While at school, autistic people may step cautiously to avoid criticism and the brutal scrutiny of teen friendships. As such, I treaded carefully all day, but once the rigidity loosened at home, I melted down. Nowadays, I struggle with transitioning from work to home.