Living with autism as an adult

Two women posing for a portrait
Zephyr James (left), director of marketing and communications at the Autism Society of Minnesota, and Delia Samuel (right), co-founder of the Multicultural Autism Action Network and mathematics professor at Century College, in the Kling Public Media Center in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Nikhil Kumaran | MPR News

Imagine being overwhelmed by the bright lights and bustle of a supermarket, to the point where it caused you pain and you couldn’t go shopping.

Imagine being so shaken up by a detour sign on your regular route to work that you had to pull over to fight against a panic attack.

Or not recognizing when someone was sarcastic with you or flirting with you.

These can be common experiences for people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with sensory sensitivities, social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

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The number of adults who identify as autistic is growing, along with awareness. It now affects just over 2 percent of adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control.

MPR News host Angela Davis talks with guests about their experiences living as adults with autism.  

Three women smiling in a radio studio
MPR News Host Angela Davis (left) talks with Zephyr James (center) and Delia Samuel in an MPR News studio in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Nikhil Kumaran | MPR News


  • Delia Samuel is the mother of two autistic sons and learned in adulthood that she also is on the autism spectrum. She is the co-founder of the Multicultural Autism Action Network, a non-profit organization serving autistic children and their families in Minnesota, and the author of “Against the Odds: Inspiration for Parenting Children with Special Needs.” She is a mathematics professor at Century College.

  • Zephyr James is director of marketing and communications with the Autism Society of Minnesota, known as AuSM. They were diagnosed with autism as a young adult.

  • Dustin Schmidt is a young adult with autism who graduated in 2021 from Minnesota Independence College and Community (MICC) in Richfield, which offers life skills and job training to young adults on the autism spectrum.

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