Lack of situational awareness in adult child on the spectrum

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Joined: 5 Sep 2014
Gender: Female
Posts: 9

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
Gender: Male
Posts: 1,036

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.