Therapists jokingly say “if you’re working with young autistic adults, you’re job is secure because no one will pay you for it.” Children’s intervention programs are siphoning most of the resources devoted to autism. The Millennial generation of autistics (born 1980-2000), who generally didn’t receive much intervention as children, have largely been relegated to the self-help section of the bookstore, where they read that autism is a problem with social communication.
Their demoralizing experience with peers bears this out—they are bullied and excluded, aching with loneliness in the midst of a haze of social butterflies. They closely observe and painstakingly rehearse the methods of the in crowd. If you want innovative formulas for social success, ask an autistic high school kid, who refines his techniques every time he gets off the bus to stand in front of a mirror.
Many young autistics have taught themselves how the game is played—reading inspirational books about how to win acceptance and getting advice from all kinds of people over the Internet—honing the skills they need to cast a spell over the rest of us, with refreshing frankness and uncanny dry humor.
If autism is primarily a problem with social communication, these charming teenagers are no longer autistic. Their acumen and wit give them every reason to take pride in having single-handedly vanquished the stigma forever.
But autism is also a problem with executive function (means-to-an-end planning and execution). After high school, they will need to learn self-direction.
Their appealing personas will decidedly turn against them. They’re so good at faking normal that their weaknesses might go unnoticed, when, to reach their aspirations, they will need a lot of help sticking to an agenda.
Meanwhile, most therapists will be occupied with small children. Fortunately, autism awareness has become more inclusive, as loved ones rally around young autistic adults who are transitioning into college or the workforce, where the gift of gab isn’t the only thing that matters.