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Advice for Moms of Autistic Adult Sons - How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/30/2010

Moms of adult autistic sons often struggle with empty nest syndrome when their grown child leaves home. This may be more pronounced due to the time and attention people with autism need as they grow up. There are ways for moms to cope with their separation anxieties and sense of loss.

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    What is Empty Nest Syndrome

    Empty nest syndrome for moms of adult autistic sons refers to the feelings of grief and loss that occur when autistic sons leave home. Most moms suffer this to a certain degree but the emotions can be stronger when an autistic son launches out on his own.

    A mom with an autistic son can start preparing for this stage of life once a decision has been made about his future. Depending on his ability to function in society, he may be heading off to college, moving to an assisted-living residence or setting up his own apartment.

    Once an autistic son has moved out, his mom may find her thoughts continually go to him and how he is coping. She may want to check up on him but doesn’t want to interfere. Feelings of lethargy and sadness are common and the mother may feel guilty for 'abandoning' him.

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    How Moms with Autistic Sons can Prepare for an Empty Nest

    Moms can prepare autistic sons for living away from home by teaching them basic life skills. These include personal hygiene, keeping a home clean, cooking and simple financial management. While these are simple concepts, autistic sons may need intense training to do them properly.

    Moms generally spend many hours with their children, and autistic sons can benefit from their influence and dedication. They will often find it helpful if they are fully involved in the process of deciding where an autistic son will live. If he is on the high-functioning end of the spectrum and wants to live alone, his mom can help him choose an appropriate place to live and set systems up to help him cope. Knowing that she has done all she can to prepare him for moving out can offer greater peace of mind when empty nest syndrome strikes.

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    How Moms can Cope with Empty Nest Syndrome after an Autistic Son Moves out

    It is important for a mom to know and accept that she has fulfilled her role in preparing an autistic son for living away from home. This will help her with peace of mind as will the following ways of overcoming empty nest syndrome. Most of these involve a decision to keep busy and allow her son space to find his feet in his new lifestyle:

    • Communication is important, especially as an autistic son may withdraw into his own isolated world. His mom can set up times to visit or call to ensure he is coping with the transition – and also to give her peace of mind
    • While communication is good, it is also important not to smother an adult child. Allow him time alone and the freedom to learn by mistakes
    • Use the extra time available to take up a new hobby or concentrate on one that has been neglected for years
    • Acknowledge that autistic sons have a life apart from their mothers, and look for signs of growth and independence to rejoice in
    • Acknowledge feelings and emotions and then work through them

    Empty nest syndrome for moms of adult autistic sons can be a difficult stage of life but can also bring new freedom and opportunities for mother and son. Planning for empty nest syndrome and helping an autistic son prepare for a more independent lifestyle are the best ways to cope with the changes.

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    Children with Autism, Michael D Powers, Woodbine House Inc, 2000

    The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008