Leaving Home & Living Independently on the Autism Spectrum
When I was 19 years old, I packed up my things, put them in my Dad’s car, and we drove two and a half hours to my new living situation, a college dorm. It was one of the most exciting and scariest moments in my life. He helped me unpack my things, made sure I was settled in, and we said our goodbyes. I was finally living away from home.
For many autistics on the spectrum, moving out from your parents house and living independently can seem like a daunting task. We like routines and familiarity so any change can be hard to handle. But I think we need to embrace growth, even at the expense of comfort. Since college, I’ve lived in a variety of different places, but I’ve made a point of always living away from home.
Living in dorms is a great way to prepare you for living more independent after you graduate. But I would recommend getting a single room because sharing a room for an autistic person is the worst possible thing I can think of. I need my own space. Fortunately my University had accommodations for individuals with disabilities and I was able to get a single room.
Even with a single room, I quickly had to learn to deal with issues like noise that come with living in dorms (and apartments). I have a sound sensitivity so the bass from other people playing music was hard to deal with. I’ve written about the importance of noise canceling headphones, but I didn’t have those at the time. I’ve also developed simple strategies for improving sound over time like using foam to seal the door frame and even a jacket on the door to block sound, and having a white noise machine, fan, or AC to make it harder to hear outside sounds.
I moved from the original dorm into a four bedroom apartment style dorm I shared with three other people. This brought up new issues I had to deal with, such as keeping the common areas clean and sharing the space. An autistic friend of mine commented that the most important thing you can do with roommates is to keep things clean. If you can do that, there won’t be many other problems.
In the summer after my freshman year, I got an internship at AOL headquarters in northern Virginia. Since I could only live in the dorms during the school year, I lived at my grandparents’ house which was close to the metro. I could take a train some of the way and a bus the rest of the way. But the whole trip, including transfers, took an hour and a half (see my article on the benefits of driving & autism).
After a while, I decided to rent a room from an engineer at AOL who worked on my team. I was able to carpool with him every day or we could ride bikes along the bike trail from the house to our work. This was much better because driving with him cut out an hour an 15 minutes for me (saving 2.5 hours a day). Living with someone older taught me a lot of things that would help me in the future for living with roommates. I learned the importance of helping to clean (doing things like sweeping and vacuuming, for example). The next summer, I rented the basement of a house in Washington, DC. I picked a home a block from the subway so I could easily get to work. Living independently in a city is much easier if you don’t have a car so this experience was great for me.
I started dating a girl in college while I was living in DC. We eventually decided to move in together. Living with a significant other brings a whole new set of issues, some great, and some challenging. We decided to rent a house. While the relationship didn’t last, I learned a lot about living with a partner and the importance of having your own space. I do recommend making sure you have your own space if you’re going to live with a partner. A studio apartment might be challenging!
When I graduated from college, I lived with my grandfather again for a little bit and then moved to western Massachusetts where I lived with my friend John Elder Robison. After almost a year, I decided to move to Los Angeles. This was one of the scariest moves for me because I’d be leaving the east coast where I had my support system of friends and family. I went on Craigslist to find an apartment in Los Angeles and I still live there. Making the move to LA was one of the best decisions in my life. It gave me countless opportunities that I didn’t ever have on the east coast.
While I had to go out of my comfort zone in order to become increasingly independent, doing so has given me many opportunities and has increased my quality of life. I’ve also gained confidence knowing that I’m living on my own, supporting myself. While some people may think living at home is the best option, I urge you to at least give living on your own a shot. After all, if it doesn’t work out, you can always move back home and you’ll merely be back to where you were. After all, life is about experimenting, trying new things, sometimes failing, and sometimes succeeding. But without trying, you’ll never grow.