Lack of situational awareness in adult child on the spectrum

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Joined: 5 Sep 2014
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25 Aug 2023, 7:52 am

My 20-year old has ASD. I am worried about his future in terms of being situationally aware, being able to problem-solve and, by extension, his ability to find a good partner and be a good partner.

My worry stems from his (inability? disinterest in?) anticipating situations that might cause him or the people around him problems down the road. For example, we were helping him move into his new apartment yesterday and there is a confusing parking setup where some lots are off-limits to guests while others aren't, but the signage is confusing. We asked him to please ask the building management where to park before we got there the next day and he said he would, but when we got there and phoned he said he'd fallen asleep and hadn't. The whole situation ended up being a nightmare for us in terms of finding a spot that turned out to be illegal, getting a ticket, etc. that could have been avoided if he'd actually taken the time to find out ahead of time.

He also does not seem to have an awareness of the feasibility of certain things. For example, he is living in student housing and was moving to another suite on the same floor. The move out/in date was yesterday and when we got there, he told us the water company had switched the water off in his old suite and switched it to his new suite. That meant we were going to be unable to clean his old place. Building management was coming by at a certain time to inspect it, so I told him he had to call the utility company to ask them to turn the water back on so we could clean. He did not want to call because he is socially anxious and suggested that we should just fill bottles of water in his new place and carry them down the hall, seeming not to realize that you need more than a bottle of water to mop the floor, clean the shower and sink, etc.

Those are little things in the grand scheme of things, but there are many ways in which he doesn't seem to have situational or predictive (?) awareness: earlier in the day, when we finally ended up finding parking, it was at the back of the building that was accessible through a back entrance. We suggested going out that way and he said 'Well, we can go out the front,' which meant walking around the block. He was carrying an upright vacuum cleaner to the car and had to be told the cord was being run over while he walked.

He also doesn't seem to be aware of the needs of other people. At the end of the day, we were all worn out and if it had been me, I would have tried to think ahead to everything I had to do to ensure that I was making things as easy on the people who were helping me as possible. Like not waiting to be asked to separate the stuff we were taking home from the stuff he was keeping. We (his parents) both have mobility problems and it just seems like he's not aware or perhaps isn't interested (despite being told explicitly) that certain activities are more difficult for us than others. At one point, we were waiting downstairs to be let into the building and though he knew we were coming back at a certain time and could not re-enter the building without him letting us up, he did not have his phone nearby so we had to wait 20 minutes for someone else to let us in.

The situational awareness problem is not confined to his relationships with others: he also has to be prompted to do things like send his accommodation letters to his instructors or take the steps that need to be taken in order for the final step of a task to be accomplished. For example, he might have "Pay tuition" on his calendar, but he doesn't seem to be able to anticipate or factor in the things that have to happen before he can pay the tuition like finding out how much he owes, asking us for the money, allowing enough time for us to do an etransfer, etc. He doesn't seem to be interested in or able to scan the environment, see what's coming up and anticipate the problems or roadblocks that might arise. Again, these are all little things but taken together, it makes me worry about his ability to anticipate problems down the road.

I am wondering a) whether this is related to his ASD and b) whether there is any kind of situational awareness training that might help him anticipate and be proactive. Thanks!


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Joined: 25 Oct 2013
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26 Aug 2023, 10:47 am

This is similar to learning to drive. Too much focus can "blind" a person to that on the periphery that needs to be tracked.

There are exercises that can help such as using a timer to draw one's attention away from whatever is focused on to consider some other subject. This sort of exercise can help develop a habit of focus interruption. Another exercise is to make a list when considering a subject of "dependent functions". This can act as a reminder of associated tasks that still need to be completed.


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Joined: 28 Dec 2023
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02 Jan 2024, 12:44 am

Therapy could help. Simulation role playing could teach him to navigate different social interactions.

A lot of this will come as he accrues life experience. Life is a bit like learning how to ride a bike. I know that as parents you love and want to protect your child, but if your child isn't allowed to fail on his own and to learn from his mistakes, he will not have the opportunity to learn and to grow.

It sounds as though he's going to school. Is the school aware that he's on the spectrum? A lot of schools offer support programs that could include free counseling services.


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Joined: 23 Feb 2020
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02 Jan 2024, 2:45 pm

life experience will probably help to a certain extent.
He might need help with written- out steps lists and etc, might need in depth explanations about the "whys" behind things like these... Do you remember how much difficulty you had when obtaining housing and figuring out everything that needed to be done for planning moves, etc etc the first time or 2? Knowing how to do everything connected to living independently, how it all worked, from bill paying to finding your way around in new places, etc? Or did somebody do it all for you? It takes time and its a huge emotional step, too. Patience and support are better than scolding and promises of failure "if you don't get your act together". Remember it takes longer to process most new experiences and to understand them thoroughly for most autistic individuals. It requires intense effort, even if it looks like there is no effort going on there. Cheering you all on through this huge new step in life. You got this!


"Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.” Samuel Johnson


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19 Jan 2024, 9:53 am

I am neurotypical (and "type A"- or a controlling type, lol), my husband is autistic (a strong but lazy personality), and my 10 year old has ADHD (also a strong personality, who dislikes authority).

What I have learned from living with the two of them is that I need to put myself in park sometimes and ask myself if something is truly a problem, or am I making it a problem?

1) The issue with the parking is something you guys should have called about. Your son is not a visitor. It's not reasonable for you to expect him to remember to call and ask about visitor parking. This is not something I would expect my kid to remember, even when he is an adult. I am not sure I'd expect my husband to remember it.

2) It's better to avoid having autistic people do phone call tasks. See if there is a way to do things online or if you can call for him. It's too stressful for many autistic people to call and find out about things. I don't ask my husband to do it unless I literally cannot speak (I have a physical disability and sometimes this happens).

3) The cord is not a big deal. If you waste your energy bugging him about something like that, he won't take you seriously when something else is important and you need him to listen to you.

4) I know the water thing seemed unreasonable. But he found a way around the water being shut off. I think you should have listened to him and did it his way. You could have cleaned up an apartment just fine with a couple gallons of water. I assume he didn't douse it in syrup or anything. It sounds like it was more trouble to him to turn the water back on than to buy a couple jugs of water.

TLDR; If you don't let him do things on his own, in his own way, he will feel emasculated. What you said about him finding a good partner was interesting. If he feels unable to do things, he would be more likely to fall susceptible to a person who would either continue to do things for him, OR would make you into some kind of villain who doesn't let him live his best life. Let that baby bird spread his wings a little. Even if he's doing things in a weird way, just let him.


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20 Jan 2024, 2:22 pm

Situational awareness + executive functions. (timing, planning, thinking ahead, anticipating, acting on time, prioritizing.)

All ASD & comorbid related, yes. These things will fluctuate throughout life. In MY experience, largely with diet and general health.

Like a frog in boiling water, things slip a bit for me and I don't Really notice.. but it's not typically anything catastrophic or anything. And then I do what I do to treat and manage my symptoms and then I have a much clearer perspective of things.. I'll notice things like stuff I haven't put away or cleaned and will just automatically tidy it up whereas otherwise I can be oblivious to it. etc.

Long story short: For MY ASD treating the root cause digestive imbalances via diet, supplements, and the gross science of colon cleanses = significantly improved functioning levels that have allowed me to live a second much higher functioning life for the last ~11 years.

But not everyone is going to have the will power to put in the work required to do what I've done for myself and instead will just figure out how to cope as best they can manage. So, your concerns about situational awareness and how they'll affect relationships and things are entirely valid.. I mean, keen observations and all - you're not wrong - all of these things will affect his ability to interact with others and may limit his friendships/relationships etc. IF he's willing to put in the hard work to do whatever he can to improve himself (for me, the path was and remains digestive health - there are multiple medical studies to back these things up) via whatever means work (maybe counselling/training/practice of some sort could have some benefit - I don't know.. but personally I don't see things like that having As Much benefit as dietary medicines that actually improve the nervous system's ability to function and "turn on the social circuitry," that actually makes us more aware) then he's simply going to have to do the best he can in life and you're going to have to accept that with all of his blunders and errors that he IS doing the best his brain and body will allow him to do and if he has a partner that person will have the patience to accept and deal with those things as well. There ARE certainly many people on the spectrum with long term partners who simply accept them and all their quirks, so he's most certainly not doomed or anything Unless he's a jerk and verbally/physically abusive or something and repels partners for those reasons.

FWIW, nearly every parent worries how their kid is gonna do in life/relationships.. even the most normal functioning kid because their parents see their shortcomings that annoy them. But then along comes some other human that becomes smitten with them anyways and they overlook whatever annoying thing they do, or see them as cute or whatever, and things workout okay.

It's not going to hurt for him to acknowledge some of his own differences and figure out if any method of intervention helps him improve, though. Definitely improves anyone's chances in life, work, relationships etc - sooo Most of any of this depends on him and his attitude towards himself. Does he have any interest in acknowledging his differences and doing any sort of work to improve them if he can? If so, he has a significantly higher chance of addressing and improving some or all of his issues. If he's opposed, forget it - no chance, just have to accept it all. If he's indifferent and self loving and accepting of who he is in every aspect and has no interest in changing himself for anyone or anything, same deal - only he'll be content or even Happy with it all so w/e. Some people are simply accepting of their differences and have no interest in changing themselves. (For me, symptoms were off the charts bad ~12 years ago and I'd have done A N Y T H I N G to chang them, so, I did. But my path is not for everyone.)

No :heart: for supporting trump. Because doing so is deplorable.