Struggles with 18-year old ASD son

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Silas
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09 Sep 2021, 8:07 am

My son just started community college after being home-schooled since kindergarten. He has taken many online courses and even some courses outside the home since that time, and for the most part he did fine. But the following issues are driving me to the edge, and I don't know where to turn:

1. Complete lack of initiative and poor planning: he will complain about being lonely and not having friends, but then take no concrete steps to go out and meet peers. I have to give him the list of college social clubs, etc. and give him some direction on how to get involved. I even drive him to a couple events--but if I don't do that, he will simply isolate and never think to branch out. He does socialize online quite a bit (discord & reddit), but aside from one friend he occasionally sees, he has zero social life.

Takes a long time to complete assignments in school (zones out), and we have to stay on him relentlessly. That isn't helping obviously.

2. Narrow focus of interest(s): he has zero interest in sports or athletics of any kind. I get him to play tennis, but he barely tries, and doesn't care. Likewise, I try to get him involved with the church group, but he has no interest in religion, and now that he is an adult, group activities are pretty limited. He isn't even into online video games very much. He likes film, anthropology and cultural studies, and a few other academic things, but that doesn't lead to meeting people.

3. Struggles with driving a bit, although he has his license. Limits where he can go to some degree --can't drive on the highway. Again, dependent on me for this.

We have thought about executive function training (expensive), but I have heard mixed things. So I am dealing with a kid with virtually no interests or motivations that lead to a productive interpersonal life, and who lacks initiative and planning. I find myself getting very upset frequently now.

If anyone has any pointers, or has managed to overcome some of this stuff, I am all ears.



magz
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09 Sep 2021, 8:17 am

I think there's nothing wrong in lack of interest in sports or religion. Sport events are painfully noisy.
I believe driving can get better with experience.
Film and cultural studies can be great to meet people!

What does your son think about it all?


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kraftiekortie
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09 Sep 2021, 8:24 am

Your son is doing better than I am. I didn't get my license until age 37. The key to learning how to drive on the highway.....is knowing how to enter the highway. He might need instruction in that. He has to learn how to merge onto the highway. Watch for cars in the merge lane.

Once he learns how to get on and off the highway, he will be okay. Emphasize that he must be on the right lane within about a mile of the exit where he wants to get off (a half mile once he gets more experience). Driving on the highway actually is easier than driving on streets and intersections.

I understand you want him to join a church group, and to embrace religion. The best thing, though, is not to force religion on him. This is a recipe for overcompensating rebellion.

I wasn't exactly a social butterfly when I was in school. I did okay.

What is he interested in?

I feel the best way for him to make friends is to make friends with students who are in his classes. Being in the same class as someone means you have something in common with that someone without even trying!



Silas
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09 Sep 2021, 10:11 am

magz wrote:
I think there's nothing wrong in lack of interest in sports or religion. Sport events are painfully noisy.
I believe driving can get better with experience.
Film and cultural studies can be great to meet people!

What does your son think about it all?


I certainly will not force religion on him --I am not even all that religious. But I kind of wish he had that outlet and a "community" to get involved with.

With the COVID-19 restrictions (meetup groups cancelled, limited activities at the college, mask mandates) finding any kind of social scene has been a nightmare for him. And if he showed some initiative and impulse, it would be a bit easier.



Silas
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09 Sep 2021, 10:17 am

kraftiekortie wrote:
Your son is doing better than I am. I didn't get my license until age 37. The key to learning how to drive on the highway.....is knowing how to enter the highway. He might need instruction in that. He has to learn how to merge onto the highway. Watch for cars in the merge lane.

Once he learns how to get on and off the highway, he will be okay. Emphasize that he must be on the right lane within about a mile of the exit where he wants to get off (a half mile once he gets more experience). Driving on the highway actually is easier than driving on streets and intersections.

I understand you want him to join a church group, and to embrace religion. The best thing, though, is not to force religion on him. This is a recipe for overcompensating rebellion.

I wasn't exactly a social butterfly when I was in school. I did okay.

What is he interested in?

I feel the best way for him to make friends is to make friends with students who are in his classes. Being in the same class as someone means you have something in common with that someone without even trying!


the driving has been OK for the most part. I am not *too* worried about it

but the other stuff is frustrating. He was taking a course at the community college, and because he showed up late to a class and didn't finish an assignment, the professor dropped him from the course --now it is going to take him longer to graduate. It is basic stuff like this which causes big problems for him

He has the following interests: hiking & nature, anthropology, culture, linguistics (to some degree), history, and dogs. He also likes cinema. That is pretty much it



magz
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09 Sep 2021, 10:23 am

Hiking & nature can be great to meet people! That's how my parents met.
Also, it's a good replacement for other sports.


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09 Sep 2021, 10:24 am

Silas wrote:
the driving has been OK for the most part. I am not *too* worried about it


Hmm, you'd like him to have an activity and he could use some more confidence behind the wheel?

https://www.scca.com/pages/autocross

Image

Why not SCCA Solo or another form of autocross?


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kraftiekortie
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09 Sep 2021, 10:45 am

I've never heard of a professor dropping a student from a course because the student was late or didn't finish an assignment.

Students are late, and don't finish assignments all the time. Professors usually just reduce the student's grade for the course.

My instincts tell me something else is going on.



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09 Sep 2021, 10:46 am

I'm trying to remember myself at 18 and whether I would have appeared to my parents to have any interests or motivation. Probably not.

Would he be interested in making movies, if he likes cinema? There's quite a lot of technical aspects within that for aspies for geek out on. And you can do it solo or within a group, depending on what you're comfortable with. And you can combine it with other interests - i.e. make a film about whatever he's currently interested in.

As for sports, there are solo ones - I love distance running, which I do cross country with my dog. Always alone. Now I can do distances I'll sometimes do races where people usually talk to me at some point.

I know its frustrating when you're making suggestions to someone about how they can help themselves and they just refuse to make any changes, but keep complaining. I think many people here could relate to the situation of being lonely but not wanting to take the steps to meet people - because it fills us with anxiety beforehand, exhausts us when we're actually doing it and then makes us feel like crappy failures afterwards if it hasn't worked (again). Personally, I find the idea of walking into an already established 'club' where everyone knows each other and what's going on to be the worst situation for meeting people. It helps for me if it's something new, where no-one knows anyone and we're all on a level footing. Still not easy, but easier.



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09 Sep 2021, 10:54 am

If this will make you feel better:

When I was 18, I filled out a college application in crayon. I've grown up a lot since then. I didn't go to college until I was 36. Ultimately, I graduated with honors and some awards.

He's just going through some things. It's likely, with your guidance, that he'll get more mature as he gets older. Aspies tend to take a little longer to "grow up."

I can understand your consternation. I know it's frustrating. But all is not lost.



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09 Sep 2021, 11:00 am

kraftiekortie wrote:
I've never heard of a professor dropping a student from a course because the student was late or didn't finish an assignment.

Students are late, and don't finish assignments all the time. Professors usually just reduce the student's grade for the course.

My instincts tell me something else is going on.


yeah, we found out the hard way that the professors at the community college can, and will, do this.

fortunately, the prof will let him back into the course if he finishes the missing assignment



Silas
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09 Sep 2021, 11:02 am

DuckHairback wrote:
I'm trying to remember myself at 18 and whether I would have appeared to my parents to have any interests or motivation. Probably not.

Would he be interested in making movies, if he likes cinema? There's quite a lot of technical aspects within that for aspies for geek out on. And you can do it solo or within a group, depending on what you're comfortable with. And you can combine it with other interests - i.e. make a film about whatever he's currently interested in.

As for sports, there are solo ones - I love distance running, which I do cross country with my dog. Always alone. Now I can do distances I'll sometimes do races where people usually talk to me at some point.

I know its frustrating when you're making suggestions to someone about how they can help themselves and they just refuse to make any changes, but keep complaining. I think many people here could relate to the situation of being lonely but not wanting to take the steps to meet people - because it fills us with anxiety beforehand, exhausts us when we're actually doing it and then makes us feel like crappy failures afterwards if it hasn't worked (again). Personally, I find the idea of walking into an already established 'club' where everyone knows each other and what's going on to be the worst situation for meeting people. It helps for me if it's something new, where no-one knows anyone and we're all on a level footing. Still not easy, but easier.


good suggestions

getting him enrolled in a film class will be good. I can probably get him some technical training in movie-making software as well



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09 Sep 2021, 11:59 am

Was this during the first couple weeks of the course? This dropping for failure to turn in assignments or attend in the first couple weeks is somewhat common. The local unis do this, and so does our CC system. (And the CC system closes reg the day (or Fri?) before classes, so once dropped that's it for the semester in that course.)

From what I've heard from profs, this is mostly for financial aid reasons. As are often attendance policies. These policies seem to be campus wide, and are frequently automated. (No grades by end of second week? The system drops the student, not the prof.)

If this dropping thing isn't mentioned anywhere (syllabus, college/dept website, etc.), then it would be worth contacting the instructor & possibly higher. (One should follow the proper hierarchy. Don't run to the dept head or dean or such first. Always try the prof first before escalating.) Really tho, those first couple weeks, even if the assignments feel like busy work, just get 'em done.

Also, I've run into the dropping issue around midterms too, so that may be worth asking about as well. It's one thing to know it occurs at certain points, but all the time? Yikes.

Silas wrote:
...He was taking a course at the community college, and because he showed up late to a class and didn't finish an assignment, the professor dropped him from the course --now it is going to take him longer to graduate. It is
basic stuff like this which causes big problems for him



kraftiekortie
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09 Sep 2021, 2:50 pm

You make an excellent point, Blue Star. Wouldn't have thought of that.

I would have thought that the professor would have advised the student to drop the course before the date where the student would lose his/her "investment."



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09 Sep 2021, 3:03 pm

Silas wrote:
He has the following interests: hiking & nature, anthropology, culture, linguistics (to some degree), history, and dogs. He also likes cinema. That is pretty much it

He could find hiking groups online, or if he likes identifying animals/plants he could find a group that meets to do that. If he has a dog he could also go to dog parks, have the dog play with other dogs, and talk to the owners about their dogs.

Autistic people often find it really hard to start socializing though, because we're very used to being rejected and it can be very hard to figure out "what to do" in a social situation. Sensory issues also make it hard because it can be disorienting to go in public and try to focus on people in groups + deal with all the other input. It might be better for him to have a defined activity to do with people, like the hiking thing, and if he wants to he could find people he's comfortable talking to from that and hang out with them more.


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09 Sep 2021, 4:10 pm

The best thing I can say is "I can relate". I was very introverted in HS and kind of came out of my shell some in college.
My oldest son now is 20 and he has never joined any club in college. We made him join one club in High School (he could pick - any club and there were a lot of them - but he had to pick one every year and stick with it).

At the age of 18 you son is becoming an adult. He is a "young adult" which means he is "an adult" AND he is "young" it is not "either/or" it is "both/and".

People tend to do what they are good at - and if it takes social skills to join a club, and your son lacks the specific social skills to "join" he will likely "not do" what he is "not good at".

The lack of motivation is another thing that is a challenge. We see it too in our DS20. He has a very high IQ and had fantastic (not exaggerating) SAT scores, but we have watched his GPA go down every semester since he started college.
EVERY semester. What is the root cause? A few things we know about and probably some things we don't know about. He is spending too much time on the internet doing things that are entertainment and not enough time studying. He has social anxiety and anxiety about "not doing well". He also has anxiety about graduating and having to move out of his house with mom and dad - since he has few friends and makes little effort to make new friends we are a BIG part of his support network. The idea of leaving is scary. So he has both "fear of failure" and "fear of success". Which triggers "flight, fight or freeze". He does all three at times. COVID-19 and distance-learning / cyberschool didn't help - he spent 2 years trying to learn the ropes on campus then everything changed on him. This taxed his EF (executive function) and made him have to learn a whole new set of social skills on-line - or NOT learn them as was the case sometimes. He may be dealing with mood issues - not uncommon given family of origin. He is dual diagnosed with ADHD and Autism (High Functioning). Both ADHD and ASD come with EF challenges. The EF requirements and EF challenges of colleges naturally go up as the years go by and the classes get harder, and they move the bar up on the expectations of from "college freshmen" to "professional". Also the classes in his major (Biology) and the requires base curriculum (Liberal Arts stuff like philosophy and Ethics) - it has all gotten more abstract - and he does better with subjects that are more concrete. The gap between expectation and ability continues to grow. The college just does not have the supports or the understanding that I would hope for, and which he may really need (even if he doesn't want it). We seriously thought this summer about pulling him out of where he is and sending him to Landmark in Vermont. A neighbor and friend is actually going that route. He even filled out all the paperwork for a transfer and visited campus with his mother. They DO have the supports and understanding.
But he is now attached to where he is and wants to try to finish there, not give up the few friends he has made, stay in the same dorm building, walk the same path to class, continue working at the cafeteria washing dishes (his freshman job).
So we let him - but I am not sure he can pass the remaining three classes he has to pass to graduate. He failed on over the summer (his first "F" and the continuation of the downward trend in his grades from last semester - all the semesters actually). One thing I also think is a factor is he is so smart he never learned any real study skills - he was always able to learn from lecture and homework. Classes that require large amounts of memorization (such as organic chemistry and molecular biology) require discipline and time management and creating and using his own study materials, not just using the materials created my the teacher - and all that requires EF. He is not naturally good at it and has never HAD to learn how to be good at it before. Without it I am not sure he can get his degree. Trying to get it while juggling all of the other things (see above) is HARD. Similarly social skills is not just about "making friends" it is about getting names and cell phone numbers of fellow students so you can contact them and get answers to questions when you are studying late at night or doing homework. It is about being able to approach your teacher, articulate what you need and get it. It is about getting up the nerve to ask for help before you get a rotten grade and not after. And knowing how to ask so you get what you need. And be an advocate for yourself. All of those are social skills too. And all of that is HARD for him too. Learning tips and trick from your peers is a social skill he really lacks. The only one to discover these skills is him, all by his lonesome. And me too, sometimes, when I have the time, (and he lets me). Social skills are HARD when you are on the spectrum - and this is costly in college.

I can tell you this - I have done computerized EF training - I am also diagnosed ADHD (with possible undiagnosed ASD traits) - the only thing I really learned is that with time and effort and practice I can improve my performance on EF tasks that are specific and well defined using "mental chunking" and practice, practice, practice. Some studies suggest that such EF training doesn't translate well to other tasks that are dissimilar to the exact training tasks. The lesson "I can improve" was, however valuable to me. I had never really had documented proof of that fact before.

We are considering a tutor for DS20, to help provide some missing structure and one-on-one instruction. He already has an ADHD coach who is familiar with EF issues, and has worked with her since HS. We are also considering a psychologist for talk therapy to help address the anxiety and mood issues (possible depression). We already have him working with a psychiatrist who has assigned meds for ADHD and anxiety. And that helps - when he takes them.

Another thing we are starting to realize we never really took into account before is Autism "Overwhelm" and "Shutting down". When he was in grade school and high school we were able to manage his school and environment for him well enough to keep that sort of thing away most of the time. Also - he would hide it - feeling it was a personal failure. This one is very hard. The only thing I could think to do was force him to take a reduced load this (what is supposed to be his final) semester. I am not really sure it is enough with all the other things.

So - mostly what I have to tell you is - you are not alone. What you are seeing is real.
And it is HARD. Keep doing your best for him and WITH him.


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