What makes an adult autistic

Autistic adolescents and adults

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wendeler ©

(Professor Dr. Wendeler was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Federal Association "Help for the Autistic Child")


"When we talk about early childhood autism, it's almost exclusively about the autistic child. But the children become adolescents and adults, and they are still autistic then. And they are hardly less dependent on understanding, help and protection than the children."

This is how the foreword by Professor Dr. Wendeler's book based on 46 interviews with parents of autistic people.

In the following article he summarizes the most important statements from this book.


There are not only autistic children

"Early childhood autism" is a disability that begins in early childhood, at the latest before the age of 30 months. But it is almost always chronic. The autistic child grows up and remains autistic, and if medical science cannot find a cure, it must always live with this handicap.

Nevertheless, there are important changes in the course of development

On the whole, there are mostly gradual improvements, but interrupted by crises, sometimes minor, sometimes very serious.

Interest in social relationships often becomes more apparent with age. But the typical handicaps in social behavior remain, the contact and communication behavior remains abnormal.

The reason for this can be seen in the lack of or insufficient understanding of the - often subtle - rules of social interaction.

Autistic people are socially naive:

Not necessarily dismissive, sometimes on the contrary even intrusive, absolutely trusting and full of an unmediated directness, incapable of lying or disguise and often painfully incapable of grasping the intentions and feelings of other people.

The compulsions and rituals often weaken, but do not go away completely.

Rather than in childhood, they can be abbreviated by admonitions or thwarted by offers of other activities. They become stronger under stress and in crises, but also with underemployment and boredom. Unfortunately, these strange acts increase social isolation. The environment, irritated by it in any case, is less tolerant of adults with such oddity than is the case with children.

Language skills usually improve into early adulthood, and probably beyond. Some of the more disabled who cannot speak acquire manual sign language. Despite the progress made, there are still considerable weaknesses among those who are more capable, especially in the difficulties of having a real exchange conversation. Autistic people are more likely to talk to than others.

In adolescence and adulthood, social dependency is even more pronounced than in childhood.

Autistic people are heavily dependent on the understanding and benevolence of their fellow human beings, and thus depend on their humanity and resilience.

Regardless of their apparent self-centeredness, they are defenseless and very vulnerable. Since they do not learn the social rules by themselves, you have to practice them with them individually, as far as you can, without becoming impatient that self-evident things have to be taught. You have to speak to them and give them opportunities to speak, and if they cannot speak, the possibility of non-verbal communication. However, one does not need to support the tendency of some to endlessly repeat the same content, although one should also see that these can be attempts to build up a conversation.

One should help restrict the rituals as much as possible, either by providing stimulation and distraction or, conversely, for relaxation and rest.

Autistic people need to be included in social life whenever it can be arranged, even if participation may be outwardly inadequate.
You have to guide them to meaningful leisure activities, whereby you can tie in with the mostly existing special interests (e.g. collections) and should take motor needs into account.

Early childhood autism is associated with varying degrees of disability.

Most of the mentally handicapped autistic adolescents and adults can hardly do productive work within the framework of the usual work program of a workshop for the handicapped. However, you can participate in a special group for the severely disabled, provided that your increased need for exercise is taken into account. Mentally handicapped autistic adolescents and adults, on the other hand, can work productively in such a workshop, whereby they can benefit from special skills that they often have. It is not uncommon for them to be under-challenged even by heavily partialized, monotonous work, as has been developed many times in these workshops. If there are integration problems, it is not because of job performance, but because of social difficulties.

The same is true for the small group of autistic people with only mild disabilities. The transition to the professional and adult world is particularly difficult for them.

In many cases, they already fail during their vocational training because of social problems, some of which result from their own social disabilities, and some of the inability and willingness of their superiors, colleagues and trainers to endure or compensate for them. The special educational and social aids on which autistic people are dependent must therefore be geared towards compensating for their social deficits, be it by promoting the appropriate skills or through tolerance of the peculiarities that arise from them. The particularly social need and dependency, despite sometimes contrary impressions, to recognize and take into account, is a prerequisite for the right assistance.

Ability to learn and willingness to learn persist into adulthood and often improve after overcoming disorders and crises, especially during this time.