We’ve been coaching college students with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) since 2008. Over the past four or five years, we find ourselves coaching more and more college students who have a diagnosis not only of ADHD, but of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Yet, when parents call to discuss ADHD coaching for their young adult child, they often don’t mention that he or she has autism traits or ASD.
What’s going on? Why don’t parents let us know that their young adult child is on the autism spectrum?
Not Knowing, Hiding, and Denial of Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Sometimes parents and/or the young adult don’t know that the young adult’s behaviors indicate that he or she might be on the autism spectrum. Parents often think that their child is just socially immature or lagging in organizational skills. They think their child just needs to grow up!
- Sometimes parents and/or the young adult suspect that the young adult is on the spectrum, but neither will admit it or discuss it. After all, he or she managed to get through high school or even graduate with honors and AP credits. They’ll be ok in college, right?
- Sometimes parents and/or the young adult know that the young adult is on the spectrum, but flat out deny it! Hey, shame about mental health disorders is rampant in our society. More about that coming up . . .
There are many reasons that parents and their young adult child either don’t know that the young adult is on the autism spectrum, won’t admit it, or flat out deny it.
Reasons for Not Disclosing Autism Spectrum Disorder
1. Challenges in Diagnosing ASD
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be difficult to diagnose. It’s a group of “developmental disorders” that can be somewhat evasive, even to mental health professionals. Determining if a young adult is on the spectrum can be especially challenging when he or she is high-functioning in many ways.
Young adults who have “High Functioning Autism” are often intelligent and even brilliant in their ability to do certain things. But autism can be a “hidden disorder,” like depression can be. Just because a person shows up at work every day, is pleasant, and gets his work done does not mean he is not depressed.
2. Shame and Distorted Perceptions about ASD
Many young adults (or their parents) are ashamed to admit that they are on the autism spectrum. At one time not too long ago, having “autism” meant that a person had very poor (or non-existent) social skills, could not communicate or learn, had odd physical movements, and muttered strange noises. The definition of ASD is much broader than that now!
Here’s the good news – The public’s perception of autism and neurodiversity, in general, is changing – for the better!
The general public is starting to recognize that people with autism are on a “broad spectrum.” That’s why the condition is now called Autism Spectrum Disorder. A diagnosis of ASD includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome.
Some individuals with ASD are fairly limited in their functioning – at least until they have appropriate treatment. Others have talents and strengths that many neurotypical people do not have.
In fact, just like people with ADHD, some of the most gifted people in the world are on the autism spectrum! Until there is wider acceptance of ASD – and having a “neuro-diverse brain” – parents and young adults are more likely to shun a diagnosis that comes anywhere close to “autism.”
3. Genetic Links to ASD
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD. If a child has ASD, one or more of their parents may have ASD.
Parents sometimes will do almost anything to cover up their fear that they, too, may have ASD. Admitting that their young adult child has ASD may not feel acceptable because it means that they might need to acknowledge that they, also, have ASD.
Hiding in the dark doesn’t help. It just makes things worse for parents, their young adult child, and their entire family. But well-intentioned parents are often not aware of the consequences of “untreated” autism.
4. ADHD is a More Acceptable Disorder
In recent years, ADHD has become a very common mental health condition. Around 11% of youth have ADHD and about 50 percent of people with ADHD seem to have inherited it. Figures from the National Institute of Mental Health say that at least one-third of all fathers who had ADHD in their youth have children with the disorder.
Two or three decades ago, parents were not forthcoming about their children having ADHD. Today it’s much more “acceptable” to have ADHD and for parents to seek help for their child. But having a diagnosis of ADHD may make it easier for parents not to find out (or admit) if their child is also on the autism spectrum. As the father of a college student with ADHD said to us, “(My son) may be autistic. But I don’t think he needs another label.”
Why Are We Concerned?
If a young adult has “High Functioning Autism,” but it is not diagnosed and/or treated prior to or during college, it will most probably adversely affect academic functioning and emotional/social well-being in college.
For some readers, I know that might be a strong statement to accept.
But can’t a parent request “just ADHD coaching” for their young adult college student, and that will take care of things?
Well, no. But that’s my next article.
The bottom line is that a combination of ADHD and ASD presents unique challenges for young adults. The challenges are not insurmountable – at all! We ENJOY coaching young adults who have both diagnoses. It’s so rewarding to see them “grow up” and mature, despite their challenges.
Are you wondering if your young adult child who has ADHD is also on the Autism Spectrum?
Are you holding back on exploring coaching as a way to help your child succeed? Do you want to chat? If so, please click here to contact us today!