Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by difficulty in social interaction and communication, and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behaviour. The autistic person has difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they have particular trouble interpreting facial expressions and body language, as well as picking up on social cues. This leads to difficulty in regulating their emotions and trouble in keeping up a conversation.

Because the severity of autism is so varied, some people may have only mild disadvantages that may be mistaken for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Others may suffer more severe symptoms such as issues with spoken language and communication. So it is difficult to provide a ‘one-size’ support programme for adults with autism, because their needs vary greatly across the spectrum of the disorder.

Growing up with autism

Autistic adults are individuals like everybody else, and their abilities vary along with the symptoms of their condition. Some may achieve well in a variety of demanding professions such as technology, laboratory work, or video game production. Many may work in administration or libraries or undertake simpler work such as ticket sales, car washes or school janitor. In short, there are as many jobs that suit autistic people as there are that suit neuro-typical people, because the spectrum is so wide and some autistic adults are hardly noticeable as different.

Those adults who are more severely challenged may develop anxiety because they are trying so hard to appear ‘normal’. These challenges become more complex on a sliding scale of condition and abilities. Those with real difficulties with communication may never find the level that will allow them to function with some degree of normality in society. Those with significant impairment in their spoken language may even develop traits of aggression, which means that they will always require assistance with all aspects of daily life.

Attributes that are beneficial 

  • People with autism are honest and dependable.
  • Most are focused on their work and are rarely distracted by social activities or outside interests.
  • A number of autistic individuals present with exceptional talents in areas such as computer coding, mathematics, music, drafting, organising, and the visual arts.
  • Some autistic adults have made great success of their endeavours and have become renowned workers with animals, as well as writers, musicians, singers, radio personalities.
  •  While it can be tough for autistic adults to set up and manage their own space and schedules, many make reliable and outstanding employees.

Problems the autistic adult faces

  • All normal adults are expected to manage their lives without assistance with regard to money, holding a job, running a home, etc. They are expected to deal effectively with social interaction with regard to family, friends and fellow co-workers. Along with this busyness they need to be able to handle the range of sounds, visual stimulation and interaction that is part of daily life: traffic, machinery, conversations, etc. Unfortunately many autistic adults will find this type of ongoing intrusion unbearable due to the fact that they are often extremely sensitive to sound, light, smell, taste and touch.
  • Job searching is a major difficulty if the skills required include a high level of social interaction, team engagement or planning capability. The working autistic adult will therefore most likely prefer a job where he or she works relatively on their own in a calm, quiet environment.
  • Autistic adults very often find it difficult to find and keep friends or romantic partners – although there are those with less severe symptoms who will marry and have children. But overall, living independently while managing the demands of daily life can become very challenging for many autistic adults.
  • In general, autistic adults may compare poorly with people who display other types of disabilities with regard to living independently or working full time. Those that do manage to attain these measures of success, seem to do so at a later age than their peers in the general population.  

Information and Resources

Once the autistic child moves into adulthood, many parents become concerned about the future. While there are those who can look after themselves independently, there are many who cannot achieve this – and unfortunately there are not many resources for parents to turn to. As a result, many autistic adults will continue to live with their parents who will provide the financial, emotional and social support their son or daughter requires.

These adults may have trouble in planning ahead and keeping their lives in running order by shopping efficiently, maintaining a home, and taking care of financial matters.

Whether high functioning or severely autistic, adults with autism need friendship and support. They need opportunities to engage in normal social setting as much as possible. This means their needs often have to be met by their families who understand their strengths and challenges, and are able to plan to meet their special needs. In addition, the familiar confines of a secure, established home and caring routine, provides the autistic adult with the stability and confidence to engage in normal interaction as much as possible and as far as their individual circumstances allow.

There are several resources in South Africa for parents with children who are autistic or becoming adults with the problems of living as an adult with autism.

  • APP Autism — an adult programme for people with autism situated in Craighall Park, Johannesburg.
  • Association for Autismwww.afa.org.za  Telephone: (012) 993-4628.
  • Autism South Africa – contact via email: info@autismsouthafrica.org
  • Action in Autism – a support and non-profit organisation for people with autism and their families. Their main objective is to improve the quality of life for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and their caregivers. They focus on building partnerships between people with ASD, their families and the community through the provision of information, services, learning and research. Visit at 105 Haig Road, Parkhill, Durban North or call (031) 563-3039.
  • The Star Academy supports families, caregivers and the community with pupils who are on the autism spectrum with access to autism support groups in South Africa. The organisation has centres throughout South Africa and provides parent, sibling and extended family support and guidance. The Star Academy acts as an information line for the Autism community, and has set up a network of skilled workers who are able to provide assistance for families and people dealing with Autism. They are able to give you information on: where to get a diagnosis, schools and centres that provide treatment for pupils on the autism spectrum, the provision of support and advocacy, and where to participate in community activities. Connect with them on email: info@thestaracademy.co.za or telephone: (011) 440-7796.

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals. 

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. It is a long term goal for them to also be able to provide an Autism Centre in the future for adults on the spectrum.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za

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