“Failure to Launch” syndrome; A common struggle for students with Asperger’s?

November 17, 2013 8:34 pm Published by

Do students with Asperger’s syndrome struggle more often with independence, and what should be done about it?

The term “Failure to Launch”,   seems to have taken the parenting world by storm. For those that work in Young Adult Programs, such as Beacon Transitions, all sorts of theories have been put forward as to why  so many young adults are struggling in their first steps towards independence.

The staff at Beacon Transitions  program for young adults consider it a priority to keep up to date on all of the latest theories and research. Some economists believe that the number of young adults living at home is a reflection of tough economic times. Some sociologists believe that the “Millenials” are more likely to stay home because of generational differences and the many challenges of the educational system.  More than one frustrated parent will tell you that their young adult’s latest video game addiction doesn’t help much either.

There may be elements of truth in all of those theories. In reality, young adulthood may  be a “perfect storm” of various challenges.

But is the process of becoming more independent more difficult for students with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders like Asperger’s), ADHD, and learning differences?

We think “Failure to Launch” is more common for students on the Autism Spectrum, and here is why;

OFTEN, IT’S NOT JUST “ASPERGER’S”  Anxiety, Depression, and other co-morbid psychiatric Diagnosis  are more common for students with Asperger’s  (Luizzone et. Al. 2012).   For families of young adults, this may mean that their young adult might not jus t be struggling with social issues, but might be afraid of leaving out on their own, or worse yet, they might not believe they can.

BEING A YOUNG ADULT REQUIRES SUBSTANTIAL SOCIAL SKILLS: Whether it is self advocating with a tenured, curmudgeon-y professor,  being assertive with a less than responsive landlord,  or simply trying to initiate conversation with a potential date at a college activity, students with Asperger’s syndrome might be experiencing


Recent research has indicated it is true; students on the autism spectrum have a higher rate of video game play than their peers. (Mizurek, 2013).  Within the somewhat controlled environment of high school and life at home, this is less of an issue. But what  about the student with  a tendency toward video games living on their own? The video-games that before cut into homework time and caused sleep deficits can now cut into timeliness at work, trips to the grocery store, or a college GPA.

What should be done?

Don’t do it alone;  There are  young adult  programs like Beacon Transitions that provide a high level of support for students trying to acheive independence. Not only does this support the natural evolution of the parent-child relationship, but it assures that young adults are in an en emotionall and physically safe environment as they do so.

Do your homework. We believe that parents of a young adult with Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or a related special needs should carefully research the qualifiications and experience of the staff at any “Failure to Launch” young adult program, transitional living program, or other young adult program before making a decision about the best way to support their young adult in a a journey towards independence.

Attend to co-morbid conditions; One of the reasons why The Beacon Transitions Young Adult Program pays so much attention to physical wellness is that there  is such a strong connection between physical and mental wellness. The young adult who doesn’t have the stamina to endure a 10 minute bike ride in the morning will surely struggle with appropriately finishing an 8 hour shift at work.   But physical exercise isn’t the only critical aspect of addressing challenges. Students must also attend to social support systems,  medication monitoring, leisure development, healthy thinking, and a number of other preventative health measures.  Make sure that your young adult is connected to an active support network that will help them access the tools they may need to be successful.

Set them up for succeess: Students with Asperger’s often need  not only a supportive environment but also the right amount of structure to keep difficult behavioral patterns such as video game use at bay. In addition, when engaging in new activities such as college , they may need a carefully scaffold-ed  experience to be successful at before they jump into a college or independent living  experience.  ” Sometimes” , says Aaron McGinley, Program Manager at Beacon Transitions, “families might consider a program like Beacon Transitions young adult program as a wise way to help their young adult develop the social skills that they need before jumping into the world of independence.

Aaron McGinley is the Program Manager for Beacon Transitions, a transitional living program in Western North Carolina.


Luigi Mazzone, Liliana Ruta, Laura Reale
Ann Gen Psychiatry. 2012; 11: 16. Published online 2012 June 25. doi: 10.1186/1744-859X-11-16


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