For those on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum moving out of the family home can be very difficult. David J. Burns, author of the brilliant new JKP title Do Lemon’s Have Feathers shares his experience as a person on the autism spectrum who eventually moved into his own house, and also as a father going through the experience of seeing his own children leave the family home.
I’ve often asked myself the question, “When will my children ever leave home?” I know I’m not alone in this and despite my efforts to encourage them to leave by annoying them, embarrassing them or eating their chocolate at Easter they still hang in there. One thing is true – they’ve learned endurance.
Despite this I do have one son who lives fifteen miles away and a daughter who is at university (so she’s almost left). I’m now at home with two daughters. Despite the reduction in food bills I miss everyone being here but understand that being a great parent means I need to raise my children to be free. That’s hard for parent, isn’t it? We’re never quite ready to let go.
If it’s hard for parents to let go, it can be even harder for a person with Asperger’s or high-functioning autism to want to go. I know what that’s like too because I left home at age twenty-three. To soften the blow I wasn’t alone though – I got married and we moved into a house and made our home together. Previous attempts to live in halls of residence at Surrey university when I was just eighteen didn’t work out because I wasn’t prepared for the complete change in making new friends, adapting to new surroundings (sound’s like a wildlife programme!) and budgeting for everything. It was just too much.
But I learned a great deal from these experiences however difficult they may have been at the time. Here are a few tips that might help you if you or a loved one who is trying to make the change to living away from your immediate family.
- Don’t jump ship (leave) too early even if your parents are embarrassing. Growing up and becoming independent takes time so hone your skills gradually. It may not seem like it at the time but learning to take responsibility for tasks at home such as your own washing, ironing, cleaning and cooking are going to be REALLY useful.
- To begin with stay close to family and friends. Adjusting to a new home is challenging enough without having to try to develop all new friendships at the same time. Don’t fill the ‘basket of change’ with so many things that it overflows.
- Remember you are loved. Leaving family doesn’t mean they don’t think about you. I wonder every day what my children are up to (like most parents even before they’ve left home!). I still care and I still love them – nothing changes there.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help – life is not meant to be a DIY project. Though many of us like our own space we need others because people are an essential ingredient in life. To begin with we all need help to learn how to take on the responsibilities of running a home and asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but demonstrates real wisdom.
- (I know it’s hard to make friends but) put yourself in a place where you can be found. Hiding away in your new accommodation may not be the best way to make friends so find out where people meet and go there. Join a club or special interest group. You don’t have to throw a house warming party (even if you do have central heating…).
- If moving out doesn’t work out first time it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact you will have learned a great deal and that will help you prepare for the next time… and there will be a next time if you want there to be one.
- Finally, remind yourself that making the step to move out takes courage because we all feel afraid of change. You are a courageous person for even thinking about setting up your own home so be kind to yourself and recognise that you are amazing.
So keep going, keep exploring and remain inquisitive. Never give up on life and don’t let the fear stop you from taking the first few steps to personal freedom.
David J. Burns is the author of Do Lemons Have Feathers which is available now from Jessica Kingsley Publishers