Being autistic comes with its many challenges, as well as many joys. One of the largest misconceptions I see in our society is the belief that autism only affects children. While that is where our stories begin, autism is a lifelong diagnosis.
When it comes to autism acceptance, it is essential to recognize some of the biggest challenges of autism at any age. While some issues do affect us primarily in either childhood or adulthood, certain aspects continue lifelong. To help people better understand, here is a quick list of the most common and challenging aspects of autism at any age or stage in life.
During my childhood, sleep was something that always escaped me. Even as an adult, I continue to have sleep problems, to the point of having to take medications for insomnia. For all three of my autistic children, they each have insomnia and other sleep disorders.
It is said that anywhere from 40- to 80-percent of autistic individuals struggle with sleep disturbances. Having a sleep disorder affects not only sleep, but also waking hours. Until we were able to get my middle daughter’s sleep apnea and insomnia under control, she had severe meltdowns due to the lack of sleep she was receiving at night. For myself, the sleep disturbances made it where I struggled with working outside of the home and even with household chores.
Anxiety and Depression
In addition to sleep issues, many people with autism suffer from anxiety and depression. As an adult, I continue to have a diagnosis of depression with anxious tendencies. These disorders affect my ability to develop new relationships, being able to work outside the home, and even shopping for everyday items.
While many may believe that these disorders only occur late in the teen years or adulthood, it can affect young children as well. Our son has suffered from anxiety since the age of 18 months. At age five, we are to the point that he must use medication so that he can attend school without having severe anxiety attacks.
Sensory issues and sensory processing disorders seem to go hand in hand with autism. Having three autistic children, I have seen just how sensory issues can affect people in different ways. Our son is very sensory seeking. As soon as he was able to move around, we started noticing that he would purposely crash into couches walls and people. As he got a little older, he became able to start using tools such as trampolines, ball pits, crash pads, and more. We also learned that if you give him an excessively big hug when he is upset, it helps him so much.
Our older daughter, on the other hand, is very sensory avoiding. There are very few people who can hug her, and the hugs must be a side hug. She struggles significantly with any change in temperature, whether that be heat or cold. Ideally, if she could keep the temperature around her between 72 and 75 degrees, she would be a happy camper.
While many are beginning to understand and accept the needs of children with autism, many do not realize these sensory needs continue into adulthood. I have learned my only sensory needs include deep pressure while also include avoiding certain textures and environments.
Unfortunately, there are still people that can be extremely judgmental. They assume that either your child is throwing a tantrum, they are spoiled, or that you are just an awful parent. However, the child is just struggling to deal with the overwhelming stimuli around them.
While thinking of an autism meltdown, many do not realize this is something autistic adults struggle with as well. Even as a 33-year-old adult, I struggle with occasional meltdowns and often to control my emotions. Having an autistic meltdown is physically and emotionally draining. For myself, I am very loud and physical when I have a meltdown. I will scream, cry, and sometimes throw things. I will say something in the moment that I would never say or mean if it were not in a meltdown.
Most of my meltdowns last within 15 minutes to an hour at times. The longer it takes me to get back to a calm state, the longer it takes me to recover afterward. Often, I must sleep extensively to reset my emotions and mental state to be able to continue doing what I need to do as a mother and a business owner. As you can imagine, as an adult, this can extremely limit many in when it comes to the workforce and the ability to provide for themselves.
When it comes to the biggest challenges of autism at any age, the fundamental answer is true autism acceptance. While there are tools and resources that may help with our individual needs, what’s more important is a society that accepts us.
The impact individuals with autism can make on this world is genuinely life-changing but will only happen when others can begin to understand where our needs are and how to help. To learn more about autism, check out our article on Common Myths and Misconceptions About Autism.