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My son is in his early 20’s and is on the autistic spectrum.

He has seen his older sibling and cousins go to university, learn how to drive and move out of home to live with their partners. He now believe these are all thing that he should aspire to, however he also has cognitive learning difficulties which mean that all of these are unrealistic life goals.

We had to explain to him today that Father Christmas did not exist; which should give you an indication to his level of social understanding.

We are trying to speak truthfully to him about his unreality in a kind sympathetic, parental way, however he becomes disappointed with us because he thinks we are trying to stop him moving on.

How can we help our son live a happy life and accept that he will have some limitations.

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(Note: I am autistic myself)

As a general rule, autistic people like facts. So, what are the facts that make you believe your son can't do all those things? Please, remember that your son has the ability to learn things. So you shouldn't say "it's impossible for him" without even trying.

People often think that "this autistic person will never be able to do that" but they forget that we do learn. And we grow. And people always end up really surprised at how far we can go when the environment is right for us.

Sure, there are things that we won't be able to learn. And other things that we could learn but that would cost us too much (time and energy) so it's not worth it.

Your son has dreams, please don't crush them. People die without dreams or purpose.


According to you, your son wants to "go to university, learn how to drive and move out of home".

Let's take the first item: "go to university".

  • Is this really what your son wants? Or does he simply wants something linked to that? For example, do he wants the friends and activity that go with university? Does he simply wish to learn more things? Or does he want to study to learn a job and have money?

  • What makes you believe that your son can't go to university?

Once you found the answer to both those questions, you can find a way to make your son's wish "come true" while avoiding the pitfalls that would make university hard for your son. He could do remote learning. Or learn a job without needing to go to university. Or he could have special adjustments put in place so that he could attend university.


Your son wants to learn to drive. Though, what he probably really wants is to be able to go where ever he wants, whenever he wants.

Does your son know how to ride a bike? If no, start there. If yes, then he can probably learn how to drive a car. Or a cart. Or just an electric scooter (though he doesn't need to know how to ride to be able to use an electric scooter).


Your son wants to "move out of home". This one is both easy and hard.

He is capable of learning, so he is capable of having a job and earning money. Maybe not full time, maybe not without some accommodations. But he could have a job. And if he is too disabled to have a job, he could still have government help who would give him money.

With money, your son can have his own flat and thus, move out.

I am, myself, not able to cook anything. But that's not an issue. I have a job that gives me money which allows me to have food delivered to me each week and then, I just need to microwave it and eat.

I am not really good at cleaning. But I manage. If I did not, I would pay someone to do it for me. As the saying goes, "there is nothing money can't buy".


It's obvious to me that your son wants more autonomy. And you often need money for that. So you should try and find ways for your son to have money. Be it from the government, from a job or simply from you giving him money (and more autonomy).


Now, to really answer your question:

Stop focusing on what you believe your son can't do. Instead, focus on what he can. Start small, be patient, take your time and keep in mind what your son truly wants (eg: more autonomy).

If you see an obstacle, something blocking the way and preventing your son from having what he wants, don't give up. Instead, think harder. Think outside the box. You don't need to make the obstacle disappear. You just need to find a way around it.

Don't believe that something is "impossible". Sure, it might not be possible in the "traditional" way. But it's very likely that it's still doable another way. You just need to use your imagination.

And last but not least: believe in your son. It is much more harder to achieve something when people (especially loved ones) don't believe in you. So please, believe in him.


TL;DR:

Figure out what your son really wants. Focus on what he can do. Use your imagination.

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Personally I have a handicap that have been predicted as making me not being able to get a job, and I've not only found one but also been consistently praised in doing well. I'm supporting Ael's answer in the regard of thinking differently about limits.

On a particular aspect though, I think there is also an opportunity to communicate more positively to your son, if you distinguish in his motivations what is his own drive from what is perceived expectations.

I remember reacting negatively to people not believing I was capable when I was looking for a job, but I've also reacted extremely poorly when I felt pushed toward something I didn't want. I was pushed toward riding a bike as a kid, as a result, I learned on my own... in my early 20s.

While I completely support that you don't set limits, it might be useful to remind him you don't set goals either, and that you will still love him the same if he doesn't drive, or get a job, or isn't completely autonomous. To me this is a kind message reminding there is no single road to success, and security is always important to have when we face difficult challenges.

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