More often than not, many of the parents we work with are asking “is it taking longer for
individuals to become an adult?”, “is it because my young adult has ASD, failure to
launch, or has learning challenges?”. It’s an interesting question and one that I have
spent time researching as of late. There is enough research out there to support this
thought. Traditional markers or previous ‘rites of passage’ such as the age of first
marriage and birth of a first child, for example are now happening later than at any time
in history in the U.S. and other parts of the world. We have record numbers of young
adults attending college, most taking out loans that will require substantial income after
graduation, college students returning home after college without direction, high school
students at home without any idea of what they want to do, or if they want to do
anything, and many remaining dependent on parents financially far longer, often leaving
them less likely to perceive themselves as adults. This is truly an issue that is becoming
universal and not just a question of mental age not matching chronological age.
Depending upon the situation, it can be both heartbreaking and frustrating for parents to
stand-by watching as their young ‘emerging’ adult struggle to accept greater
independence or to leave home and live independently. Many parents begin to
question what they may have done to limit their individuals’ growth or if it’s a mental
health issue. There are many factors surrounding the topic of failure to launch into
adulthood, let’s explore some of these factors as to why the young ‘emerging’ adult
seems to be ‘stuck’ and not maturing in an age appropriate manner, regardless of a
If we look at key aspects of being an adult, feeling autonomous tops the list. Many
young people are not getting the opportunities they need to grow into autonomous,
healthy adults when parents are overly involved in all aspects of their lives. Well-
meaning parents are eager to make their child’s life easy and remove challenging
situations, especially if they have a diagnosis. As a result, an adult child may hold on to
an unhealthy attachment to their parents and the ease of living the parents provide.
While the family experience and the parent-child relationship may be factors, this is not
the case for all children. Individuals between 18 and 28, known as ‘emerging adults’
need opportunities to make their own choices – they need the chance to practice
making mistakes and recovering – they need to own the outcomes of their choices,
regardless of a diagnosis. For parents, it’s trusting that you can step back and allow
your ‘emerging adult’ to step into the world, allowing them to gain and build resilience
through giving them permission to make mistakes without shame or guilt.
Mental illness is also a consideration for failing to move into adulthood and leaving the
safety of home is cripplingly scary for a young adult with depression, anxiety, ADHD, or
who has experienced trauma. As much as they may desire to be independent, their
mental health keeps them home, and becoming increasingly more isolated and
removed from the outer world.
For the individuals with ASD, the aspect of juggling adult responsibilities is daunting and
are often holding the strong belief that they won’t be able to live in a situation of greater
independence and are more prone to avoid or delay the transition into adulthood. For
many this means a lower self-determination or motivation to get a job, attend higher
education or move out of the home. Typically, they feel secure in staying in a situation
that they are familiar and a routine that they are used to – it’s easier to remain in a
‘dependent childlike state’ than to have to experience the discomfort of the unknown.
At the end of the day, many young ‘emerging’ adults will need extra support at some
point during the transition to adulthood. Many parents find that using a Life
Skills/Transition Coach can aid the young adult and family though this transition period.
Remember, moving into adulthood is part of the human experience for every individual
and they deserve our support, and sometimes the best support is saying ‘no’ and
allowing them to navigate their life, allowing them to fall down and discover they can
pick themselves back up and move on.
For more information on Life Skills and Transition Coaching, email StarPointe Consulting