Do individuals with ASD mature more slowly than their peers without ASD?
Typically, yes, it is common for individuals with ASD to develop more slowly compared to their non-ASD counterparts, often reaching milestones such as potty training, driving, and having a relationship, or getting a job later in life than the average person without autism.
While it seems obvious to say that every person matures on their own timeline, for families with a child with ASD that can become almost predictable.
The Effects on the Family
Experiencing atypical timelines can create massive frustration, worry, anxiety and fear in parents, who are often afraid that their child may never reach the particular milestone…
Developmental delays can contribute to anger, resentment, and stress in relationships with siblings, who often feel the individual with ASD is given to wide a berth because of their ASD. Sometimes they are required to take on additional chores or responsibilities because their sibling is not held to the same standard or timeline due to their autism.
In my house that elicits the familiar phrases “Why do I have to? He doesn’t!” or “That’s not fair, he should have to do the same amount I do!” or “You always make it easier for him!”
Ironically the better therapy is working for the individual with autism, the louder the objection from siblings who begin to see the potential and often feel that the ASD member of the family is “using” their disability to their advantage. (Click the link to learn more about the Impact of Autism On The Family.)
Equal Is Not Fair
In a family with autism, “equal” is not necessarily fair, but that is a hard concept, especially for those family members who feel that the individual with ASD is being “babied,” or unfairly given a pass on expectations to which they are being held accountable. Enter angry siblings!
Of course, this takes the challenge of parenting to a whole new level!
King Solomon-like skills are often required to successfully adjust parental requirements based on need and keep the peace at the same time.
Once again, the complications and additional challenges of rearing a child with autism come to the surface. (Click here to learn more about Walking the Parenting Tightrope of ASD.)
Interestingly, as this dichotomy of expectations between neurotypical and spectrum individuals becomes clearer, it highlights some of the greatest challenges parents face when their child has autism:
- Individuals with ASD need to be kept on their green growing edge, unlike their non-spectrum counterparts who naturally seek growth. Kids with ASD would probably never take on new challenges or move beyond what is comfortable. Anxiety and fear, can keep them in a very tightly managed pattern of life if left to their own devices, so our expectations need to always be far enough in front of the child’s progress to create growth without being so grand that they shut down in fear.
- Next, the expectations of someone with ASD need to be different – not necessarily less, but different than the expectations of a child without ASD. For example, a child without ASD may easily be able to do his homework with other siblings in the room, while a child on the spectrum may need a more isolated or quieter spot to be able to focus.
- For parents, every milestone not hit by their child can create an opportunity for grief and grieving. With missed milestones can come disappointment, grief, anxiety, fear about the future, feeling like a failure and many other negative interpretations of ourselves as a parent. It is a prime opportunity for self-doubt. When my kids didn’t get their driver’s license at 16, I wondered if it as my fault for not pushing harder…. Today I know they weren’t ready, and that’s ok.
- Every milestone that someone else’s child does meet – graduation, wedding, new job, going to college, whatever it may be, can also be a stark reminder to a parent that their child is not meeting the same timeline as their counterparts.
I have a friend with 4 amazing kids. Each one that graduated from college, stirred a deep-seeded grief in me because college wasn’t the right choice for my kids. As happy as I was for them, in contrast our accomplishments seemed small.
All of this discomfort, aggravation and self-imposed negativity are at least partially borne from one issue: Temporal Expectations – a.k.a. timelines.
For parents, letting go of, or at the very least understanding the expectations of traditional timelines, and how our children’s lives will probably be different, is both a relief and a very therapeutic recognition.
Milestones occur at different times for kids with ASD.
When you expect that, it takes some stress out of life. (Click here to read more about How Do You Find Relief from the Difficulties of Life with Autism?) Potty training happens later, driving happens later, relationships with the opposite sex happen later, first jobs happen later, careers and families happen later – if they happen at all.
When we respect and embrace this difference, we save ourselves and our kids with ASD from struggling to accomplish something that they may not be ready for.
As a parent, don’t be fooled by the typical timeline of potty training by 2-3, driving by 16, college at 18 and independence by 22.
That is arbitrary and not helpful to those of us who have kids with ASD who tend to develop slower.
Neither of my kids were ready to leave for college at 18.
At first, I felt guilty that I hadn’t prepared them well enough. But that was an inaccurate perspective of my own parenting. The reality was that I was able to recognize they were not ready, and help them to find ways to get ready for the next steps in their life.
An interesting aside for those of you who are trying to identify ASD, and diagnosing an older adult. Looking at the historical timeline of an individual’s milestones is one area you can look to for corroborative evidence that that person is on the spectrum.
The identification of so-called “late bloomers” may add credence to the diagnosis.
When you have a child with ASD, or are working in therapy with a family who has a child with ASD, it is so critical to be aware of the additional pressure and demands that conventional timelines put on both the individual on the spectrum and their families.
Bringing this to awareness is, in itself, a powerful first step toward living more peacefully with autism, moving toward psychological healing for the family, (Click here to read more about The Impact of Autism on the Family) and supporting the individual on the spectrum in reaching their full potential.