Can People With Autism Live a "Normal" Life?

Parents who have a child with autism commonly wonder if people with autism can lead a "normal" life. If that means being independent and otherwise living like non-neurodivergent people, there is no simple answer. Some have mild autism symptoms and others having severe ones, which greatly affects what everyday life may look like.

With that said, many children with autism learn to live on their own, get jobs, have relationships, and more.

It's important to acknowledge that "normal" means different things to different people. To some, it may mean pursuing an education, having children, and so on. To others, it might mean living with minimal assistance, such as being able to cook, clean, and care for oneself. Your child's healthcare team can help you gauge reasonable expectations.

There is no one-size-fits-all set of goals or plan that meets the needs of everyone with autism, but there are some foundational steps you can take to set your child off in the right direction.

This article explains how to gauge a child's potential for independent living if they have autism. It also outlines what is involved in transitioning to independent living, if that's an option, including the avenues and resources for education and employment.

Multi-ethnic multi-generation family cheering boy hitting pinata at birthday party
Caiaimage / Robert Daly / Getty Images

Planning for the Transition to Adulthood

If your child is still little, this may seem premature. But since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) only provides services to people with autism until the age of 22, you'll need to begin transition planning by at least age 16.

This allows you to use your child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to set goals for every aspect of adult life—including vocational training, postsecondary education, employment, and independent living—and ensure their school helps prepare them to achieve the appropriate goals.

By starting early, you can also ensure your child receives the proper assessments of their existing skills, strengths, and needs, including:

  • Vocational testing to assess job-related aptitudes and interests
  • Educational testing, including the functional use of spoken and written language and math
  • Community-based skills assessment to evaluate their ability to function independently outside of the home
  • Adaptive living skills assessment to evaluate their ability to function independently on a daily basis inside the home

Education Planning

If college is part of your child's future, you will need to make sure she gets her high school diploma or a general education diploma (GED). An IEP diploma is not recognized by institutions of higher education.

You will also need to prepare and arrange for your child to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Testing Program (ACT) tests.

In addition, some colleges may require IQ or achievement test scores for your child to receive accommodations under section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act (VRA).

When preparing for post-secondary education, there are a number of options to consider:

  • Enquire about dual enrollments. This allows your child to take college courses while still in high school.
  • Contact local autism organizations. They can usually provide you with a list of colleges that offer support for students with autism.
  • Keep your options open. Depending on your child's aptitude and interests, you may want to consider vocational schools, community colleges, technical institutes, state schools, liberal arts colleges, or online courses.
  • Investigate. Take time to meet with the Disability Services Office (DSO) of prospective colleges to find out what documentation is required for enrolment and what special accommodations are provided for students with autism.
  • Start building a support structure. Ask the school to help connect you to other students with autism as well as their families.


Finding a regular paying job can be tough, especially for people with autism. Luckily, more businesses are recognizing the value of recruiting and hiring adults with disabilities, including Ernst and Young, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, Rising Tide, SAP, Walgreens, and others.

Even so, challenges remain. People with autism typically undergo more stringent testing and evaluations than coworkers without autism. They also may require extra support to deal with deficits that can impede job performance, including:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Inflexibility
  • Social anxiety
  • Sensory challenges
  • Difficulty collaborating with others
  • Difficulty coping with criticism

If you start early, you can work with your child's school counselor to determine the best career for your child based on vocational testing and aptitude tests. Knowing this information ahead of time can help you plan for training, internships, and vocational opportunities.

Living Arrangements

Planning for and creating an ideal living arrangement for a child with autism is complex and time-consuming, so again, preparation is key. This will also help ensure that your child's educational program is crafted to support these future living arrangements.

Start by asking yourself: Where would my child thrive? Is an urban or suburban environment better? What type of support do they need?

While options vary from state to state, living arrangements for adults with autism may include:

  • Living at home with family
  • Housing unit programs
  • Group homes
  • Dorm-style facilities
  • Living with roommates
  • Living independently with a remote support network of family and friends

Your local school district or state agency is a great place to start when looking for state-run residential facilities for adults with disabilities. You can also consult your local autism support group for local referrals and listings.

When evaluating living arrangements, you may need to consider whether the following support programs are readily accessible:

  • Health services coordination
  • Medication administration
  • Behavioral and mental health support
  • Career support
  • Community integration support
  • Social opportunities
  • Respite care

Independent Living Skills

Helping your child live a "normal" adult life (in this case, defined as one in which they are independent in all aspects of daily living) means that they will need to be able to get dressed, take a bus to work, go to the movies, meet new friends, etc.

These skills can take time to develop. By having your child assessed early, you can ensure that the following independent living skills are part of their educational process:

  • Life skills, including using the toilet, dressing, and eating
  • Functional skills, to manage daily tasks like shopping, catching the bus, or scheduling appointments
  • Leisure or recreational skills, such as going to the library or engaging in group sports
  • Job and vocational skills, including time management and interacting with coworkers
  • Social or interpersonal skills, including social, job, and romantic interactions
  • Technology skills, including using a smartphone or making an online purchase

Resources and Support

While financial resources are available for families living with autism, they are generally limited and extremely competitive.

It's helpful to learn about the support programs and resources in your community for people with disabilities. This can include low-cost transportation, meal services, and volunteers willing to help with inclusion in arts programs, sports, or other activities.

On the federal level, the agencies providing support include:

Many families also turn to their local religious communities for emotional and spiritual support. Encouraging your child to volunteer in the community or to stay socially connected to others with autism can also help set the foundation for independent living.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

  2. Wei X, Wagner M, Hudson L, Yu J, Javitz H. The effect of transition planning participation and goal-setting on college enrollment among youth with autism spectrum disorders. Remed Special Educ. 2015;37(1):3-14. doi:10.1177/0741932515581495.

  3. Lorenz T, Frischling C, Cuadros R, Heinitz K. Autism and overcoming job barriers: comparing job-related barriers and possible solutions in and outside of autism-specific employment. PLoS One. 2016;11(1):e0147040. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147040

  4. Shattuck PT, Narendorf SC, Cooper B, Sterzing PR, Wagner M, Taylor JL. Postsecondary education and employment among youth with an autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics. 2012;129(6):1042-9. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2864

  5. Shattuck PT, Garfield T, Roux AM, et al. Services for adults with autism spectrum disorder: a systems perspective. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2020;22(3):13. doi:10.1007/s11920-020-1136-7

Additional Reading

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.