“We were good parents, and now we're supposed to be done!”
When couples plan their families, they imagine raising little girls and boys into successful individuals. At one point, they'll move out of their parent's roof, visit over the holidays, and the couple is free to travel, embrace their old hobbies, and grow old together.
However, the romantic comedy “Failure to Launch” presents a different scenario. Tripp, a 35-year-old professional, shows no desire to leave home, become an independent adult, or get married. His mom still makes him pancakes with sidings. She also does his laundry and fixes his bed.
His parents hear stories of couples their age going on a second honeymoon and reengaging in old hobbies, and they can't wait to get their life back.
Many young men who should be able to move out simply can't. It's called Failure to Launch. And in the movie, it is humorous and glamorized but in the real world it is stressful and frustrating.
What Is Failure to Launch Syndrome?
The inability of emerging adults to take on adult responsibilities is often referred to as “Failure to Launch.” This may include still living at home with parents, failure to pursue or finish their education or a career, or chronic stuckness.
As the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue, more and more millennials are finding themselves moving back home with their parents. Failure to Launch, however, isn't typically associated with a major disaster or economic distress.
Failure to Launch is characterized by a young adult that is struggling in some way emotionally, behaviorally or psychologically who has shut down and is not participating in life. These young adults may have a history of needing support in school through an IEP plan or a 504 Accommodation plan. He or she may also have had up and down problems but did well in school, so no formal assistance was given. In both cases, it wasn’t until they tried to launch in the adult world that their issues really accelerated.
Failure to Launch Causes
There is no singular cause for Failure to Launch, although potential risk factors have been identified. Young adults struggling with Failure to Launch lack good coping skills and can’t manage life’s stressors as a result. These factors may keep an individual from being independent because compounded stressors build and worsen or lead to clinical issues.
Helicopter Parenting and other Risk Factors of Failure to Launch
Helicopter Parent refers to a literal scenario where parents always hover over their children's affairs as if expecting something might go wrong anytime, and they're prepared to shield their child.
A 2013 study links “helicopter parenting” to children with lack of confidence, less autonomy in their adult life, and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is a dependency trap.
Low self-esteem and poor social skills contribute to Failure to Launch syndrome.When a young adult has had a history of issues that have required a lot of emotional and behavioral support at school and home, these young adults haven’t learned to independently manage stress, that makes them feel bad about themselves. Building independence in life is what leads to good coping skills.
Symptoms of Failure to Launch
There are many reasons why young adults fail to launch, but here are some of the most common:
- Living in the family home without contributing financially or planning to move out
- Unable to keep jobs
- History of learning difficulties
- Lack of independent life skills
- Lack of motivation
- Poor work ethic
- Low stress tolerance
- Entitlement complex
- Difficulty in the social world
- Difficulty solving problems
- Screen addiction
- Procrastinates excessively
- Refusal to seek help
Mental Health Issues and Failure to Launch
Mental health issues, such as anxiety, OCD, depression, PTSD, and conditions like autism and ADHD, can lead to “Failure to Launch.” This occurs when someone cannot thrive independently due to interference in their thoughts and behaviors and a lack of good coping skills.
Mental Health Issues That Can Lead to Failure to Launch:
Fear of failure can prevent a person from taking risks and achieving their goals. Excessively worrying can also interfere with a person's ability to focus and be productive.
People with anxiety may soothe their fears through social isolation or withdrawn behaviors, excessive screen time, or even substance abuse, especially with cannabis use — habits that may provide temporary comfort but keep them from progressing.
A 2017 study found that children with anxiety often rely on parents to help them avoid stressful situations. This process is known as family accommodation. While it may provide some relief in the short term, accommodating anxious behaviors will ultimately only hold children back.
A person who has experienced a traumatic event may be afraid that it will happen again due to the activation of the nervous system, preventing them from doing things on their own. Their nervous system is so stuck in a fight, flight, or freeze mode that they can’t move forward.
Depression and Mood Disorder
Depression can make leaving the safety of home feel like a daunting task.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased the number of millennials moving home. This is not surprising, as many have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours.
Many of these young people suffer from depression or a mood disorder, especially those with less than a high school education. This is a cause for concern, as these groups are more vulnerable to mental health issues.
In the eight months from August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults displaying symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. The most significant hikes were seen among 18-29-year-olds and those without high school education.
Asperger's and Autism
Young adults with Asperger's syndrome and autism often face significant challenges in transitioning to adulthood. The change can be overwhelming, leading them to cling to familiar habits and environments and experience problems in both personal and professional spheres. The social demands in new situations can be overwhelming, especially when interventions to support their social skills haven’t been put into place when they were young.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD can make it hard to focus and keep track of responsibilities. This condition can impede a young adult's ability to thrive in work and life and influence their lack of desire for independent life if they haven’t found what they are passionate about or an area of excellence.
Adult Autism and Failure to Launch
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that leads to difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. It can be mild to severe, and symptoms can vary from person to person.
Behaviors occur along a spectrum, with some children having cognitive impairments and others having normal to high intelligence. But all individuals with ASD experience hindrances in learning, attention, and socialization, which makes day-to-day life and productivity difficult.
Autism is often diagnosed within the first few years of a child's life after showing an inability to interact and develop socially. Many individuals with autism may not be diagnosed until they are adolescents or even adults. Those with autism avoid eye contact, have trouble understanding or using gestures, and miss subtle more nuanced social communications.. They often have sensory sensitivities and like routines.
People with Autism Are Either Geniuses or Intellectually Disabled
Autism occurs along a spectrum —with some individuals' cognitive skills falling below an IQ of 70, intellectually disabled, or intellectually gifted with an IQ above 130. That doesn’t mean they are either one or the other in terms of cognitive extremes. When an individual's IQ is higher, it means that they intellect may mask some of their social difficulties or even anxiety.
Autism in Young Adulthood
- Adults with autism are less hyperactive and irritable. They have fewer repetitive and maladaptive behaviors than when they were children.
- Although slower than their peers, they are developing skills for everyday life – like getting dressed or handling money.
- Sleep problems in childhood can carry over into adolescence and can cause sleepiness in school or work
- Anxiety is common
- Teens with autism may struggle with Executive Functioning
Adults with Autism
As awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults has grown dramatically in recent years, and so has the understanding that a diagnosis can offer significant benefits and relief, even later in life. When we know what the issues are, we can better address them.
Autism spectrum disorder affects people of all races and ethnicities but is four times more likely to affect males than females.
Severe forms of ASD are diagnosed within the first two years of a child's life, but high-functioning individuals may not be diagnosed much later.
Signs of autism occur in three main areas:
- Social interactions
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors
Adult autism can manifest in different ways. Some may exhibit symptoms that resemble ADHD, while others may have symptoms like impaired expressive language.
Regardless of manifestation or severity, ASD symptoms can pose challenges in everyday life. And as our understanding of those challenges improves, more people than ever are diagnosed with ASD.
Manifestations of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults
Autism occurs along a spectrum and that means while there are commonalities, there are also differences in both one’s strengths and needs.
Common symptoms of autism in adults include difficulty in:
- Interpreting other people's thoughts and feelings
- Interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues.
- Keeping emotions in check
- Keeping a conversation going
Moreover, they are prone to:
- Monologues on a favorite subject
- Engage in repetitive or routine behaviors
- Participates in a restricted range of activities
- Stick to daily routines, outbursts when changes occur
- Exhibiting strong, special interests
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a life-long condition, though diagnosis, treatment, and management can make a tremendous difference. Emphasis on stress tolerance and coping skills can help kids with ASD and FLS. There are many interventions that can support both in there emotional development.
Autism Symptoms in Adults at Home
You always try to understand other people's feelings, but their emotions don't make sense to you. You have a lot of different Lego creations on your desk that you like to keep in a specific order. It's just something that you have to do.
These, and other familiar manifestations of ASD, may be apparent in adults at home:
- Your family members lovingly refer to you as the “eccentric professor” of the family, even though you don't work in a university.
- You've longed for a best friend, but you never found one.
- You invent your own words and expressions to describe things.
- You talk about the same topic over and over.
- Even in a quiet place, like the library, you find yourself making involuntary noises like clearing your throat over and over.
- You follow the same schedule every day of the week and dislike unexpected events.
- Expressions like “Curiosity killed the cat” or “Don't count your chickens before they hatch” are confusing to you.
- You are constantly bumping into things and tripping over your own feet.
- You prefer individual sports, like golf, where everyone works for themselves instead of working toward a common goal on a team.
Autism Symptoms in Adults at Work
No two people with ASD will have the same symptoms or strengths. ASD symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary significantly from person to person.
These or similar manifestations of ASD may be apparent at work:
- When talking to your boss, your eyes wander through the wall, on her shoes, or anywhere but directly into her eyes.
- Your co-workers tell you that you speak in a flat tone.
- Each item on your desk has a special place, and you don't like when the cleaning company rearranges it.
- You are good at math or software coding but struggle to succeed in other areas.
- You talk to your co-workers the same way you speak with your family and friends.
- During meetings, you say whatever you think and have had difficulty being “too honest”
- When talking with your boss, you have difficulty telling if he is happy with your performance or mad at you.
In addition, individuals with ASD may exhibit extraordinary talents in visual skills, music, math, and art. Forty percent of individuals with ASD have average or above-average intelligence.
If you experience these or similar symptoms of ASD, consult a mental health professional to learn more about treatment options for autism symptoms in adults.
Coping Up with Adult Autism
Autistics can experience a wide range of daily challenges. Still, they often have plenty of strengths to explore for keeping in touch with others, improving self-regulation, planning alternate ways to meet needs and achieve goals, and suggestions for self-care.
- Support strategies for maximizing mental and physical health
- Work on moderating stress everyday
- How to reframe thinking away from deficit and disorder toward an individual's strengths
- They might sing to reduce stress or help themselves fall asleep each night
- Join a social group that has the same interests
Executive Functioning Skills are Life Skills
Executive functioning skills are life skills and many with failure to launch or autism lack them. In a workplace with changing needs, varying deadlines, and many people, and at home with even more people and evolving relationships, one needs executive functioning skills alongside technical skills and intelligence.
Unfortunately, people with autism lag in developing their executive functioning skills. As a result, they may have difficulty at school or keeping jobs.
This may lead to failure to launch as they refuse to live in the comfort and familiarity of their homes. They may also financially struggle from moving from one job to another.
High-functioning autism may remain undetected in school, where it is easier to skip school dances or have a teacher remind you to turn in your school work. However, it's more difficult to hide at work where company parties require attendance and relationship building with clients and executives.
Diagnosis is essential in correctly addressing social discomfort, obtaining good social skills and helping people build executive functioning skills.
The frontal lobes are responsible for executive functions in the brain. Executive functioning includes:
- Organization: the ability to gather and group tasks and prioritize
- Working memory: a system for storing information that pertains to work
- Regulation: the ability to process your environment and keep your responses at bay
- Inhibition: the ability to control urges, tempers, and aggressions in favor of long-term benefits, common good, and social order
- Shift: the ability to refocus one's mind as priorities change
- Initiation: the ability to begin tasks independently
What Are Executive Functions?
Executive functioning skills develop throughout childhood and into adulthood. They foster the ability to interact in our environments effectively, successfully, and independently and are not fully developed until age 25.
When a person is not strong in a particular skill or skills at a developmentally expected age, it can negatively impact their relationships, success, and overall life satisfaction.
The 12 Executive Functions:
- Response Inhibition
- Working Memory
- Emotional Control
- Sustained Attention
- Task Initiation
- Time Management
- Goal-Directed Persistence
- Stress Tolerance
Help for Executive Functioning Problems
Executive functioning skills can be developed in children and adults with a willingness to learn and professional help.
Just to be clear, we are not referring to the bold treatment plan Sarah Jessica Parker has devised in the movie. But to evidence-based integrative mental wellness treatments with many successful cases.
While Failure to Launch happens in real life, cases of FLS are less humorous and come with emotional issues. There are stories of clinical anxiety and other mental disorders that did not receive early intervention in the teen years and later resulted in Failure to Launch.
The first step is to understand the 12 executive functioning skills and identify what is lacking and focus on stress tolerance
A skilled therapist can identify weaknesses and develop a plan to strengthen the desired skills.
For example, a young adult with EF problems doesn't see the end result and therefore needs to be taught to see the end product first and then work backward. This is accomplished with executive functioning coaching.
This is especially effective when paired with brain-based therapies such as neurofeedback, which gets the brain to regulate and alert differently.
Getting the brain into a healthy rhythm through highly effective neurofeedback coupled with new learning through coaching leads to good executive functioning.
Additude (2022), Living in Uncertain Times: Coping Strategies for Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Additude (2022), What Does Autism Spectrum Disorder Look Like in Adults?
Capanna-Hodge, Roseann (2021, It’s Gonna be Okay
Failure to Launch (2006)
Psychology Today (2020), Failure to Launch
Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. *The effectiveness of diagnosis and treatment vary by patient and condition. Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, LLC does not guarantee certain results.
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Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.”
She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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