5 key steps to becoming a man

Tom Iland

Part of loving yourself is letting go of those grudges you hold that ultimately hurt you more than the person you hate.  Forgiving others as well as yourself will begin the healing process and allow you to move forward with your life. 

The Art of Becoming A Man

By Tom Iland

Current statistics tell us that at least 50,000 people with autism will turn 18 in the United States EVERY YEAR!!!  This makes them legal adults on a calendar basis; however, current statistics also tell us that someone with autism has a functioning level of about two-thirds (2/3) of their calendar age.  Applying this information, an 18-year-old with autism may actually have the social understanding or the communication capacity of a 12-year-old.  Would you let a 12-year-old out into the world on his/her own?  Probably not…unfortunately, people with autism often lose access to vital supports and services when they turn 18 resulting in the equivalent situation of a 12-year-old being let loose “into the wild.”

Planning for this significant transition in a person’s life must start not immediately before the person turns 18, but rather, if possible, immediately before the person turns 12.  As much as people with autism love their parents and wish their parents could be around forever, it is sadly safe to say the parents will leave this earth before the person with autism does.  Parents, if you had planned to take care of your son or daughter with autism until the day you died and then that day finally came (sometimes without warning), what happens then if you do not have a plan in place?  Would your son or daughter know how to take care of him/herself?  Would they be able to go on without you?

The earlier you start preparing for the future, the more it will pay off later.  If the person with autism in your life is already over 18, there is still hope that the person can go on to lead a life of his/her own.  There are key principles that people with autism, regardless of age, need to eventually know and grasp if they are to become happy and productive adults in our society.  In differentiating between what a boy does and what makes a man (the same can be said of a girl becoming a woman), I’ve narrowed it down to five key differences:

  1. A boy blames others for his mistakes, circumstances and shortcomings. A man holds himself accountable for his own thoughts, decisions and actions.

When you are an adult, life no longer comes to you…it is up to YOU to come to life!  I had this epiphany while I was in college and it is a concept that my mother (Emily Iland) and I are writing about in our upcoming book, Come to Life, which is set to be released this November.  The book emphasizes the importance of taking control of your own destiny rather than putting your life in another person’s hands or sitting around on the couch waiting for your dream job or significant other or some kind of miracle to come to you.  I can tell you, if sitting and waiting around is your current plan, you will be sitting and waiting around a LONG time while life passes you by.  Doing nothing causes you to miss out on several opportunities that, if you decide to seize, may cause you to obtain what you were waiting for in the first place!  Know this: for every one finger you point at others, three are pointing right back at YOU.  By being mature and realizing that it is YOU that has the power to shape your life and that YOU can make the decisions to make it happen rather than playing the victim, YOU have a better chance of beginning to live the life of your dreams!

  1. A boy receives before he gives. A man gives before he receives.

Have you ever heard the saying, “You have to spend money to make money”?  By investing your time and resources in people and causes that are near and dear to you, you end up increasing your chances of getting what you want often in ways you’d never expect!  Speaking from personal experience, I am on the board of a non-profit organization in Santa Clarita.  The secretary of the organization was unavailable to take minutes of a meeting and asked if I could do it.  I said, “Yes, I can,” and took the minutes.  Weeks later, I was hosting an event at a Santa Clarita bookstore.  The secretary happened to be the head editor of a magazine distributed to all of Santa Clarita’s residents and she offered to have the magazine cover my event!  My name, face and story later appeared in an issue of the magazine available for hundreds of thousands of people to read!  The moral of this story?  Sometimes doing a favor for someone, even if it seems tedious at first, can later pay off much more for you without any money being involved at all.  Be among the first to step up and help others when they need it and they might be among the first to step up and help you when you need it.

  1. A boy looks for an easy way out rather than face his fears. A man musters up strength and courage to do what is difficult.

Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit of highly effective people is to “begin with the end in mind.”  While it would be nice to have a smooth road from beginning to end, this is often not the case.  We will come across situations or events in our lives that may cause us to question ourselves, our journey, our motivation, etc.  How we conduct ourselves during these trials makes us who we are as people whether we have autism or not.  You may not believe it at first, but these challenges are actually blessings in disguise and can make us better people if we handle ourselves with maturity and dignity.  If you recently went through a breakup or lost your job, for instance, know there is a better person or job on the horizon.  Had this parting of ways never taken place, you would not be on the road to something even better for yourself.  By seeing the glass as “half-full,” looking for possibilities and potential resulting from conflict rather than problems and perils, and not forgetting what your “end in mind” is, your approach is likely to be more optimistic and you will have “I can do this!” as your mentality throughout!

  1. A boy wonders how he could have changed the past. A man wonders how he can change the future.

One of my favorite movies when I was younger was The Lion King.  It taught me that you cannot change the past and it is better to apply what you learned from your past towards your future.  Referring to the previous example on mustering up strength and courage, Simba, with the help of some old and new friends of his, did what he had to do to find his strength and courage to return home to Pride Rock and fight for his rightful place as king.  Dwelling on what happened or what could’ve been or what should’ve been is not likely to change your present circumstances.  Instead, it can show you what you can do differently going forward so that you hopefully will not make the same mistake more than once.  Holding grudges or not forgiving people that have wronged you are examples of dwelling on the past.  In connection with my mantra, Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Be Yourself, part of loving yourself is letting go of those grudges you hold that ultimately hurt you more than the person you hate.  Forgiving others as well as yourself will begin the healing process and allow you to move forward with your life.

  1. A boy lets others make choices for him. A man controls his own destiny.

I like to use the analogy of being in a car to indicate where you are going in life and how you are getting there.  Referring to the previous example, after you have let go of grudges and forgiven yourself and others, you are no longer looking in the rearview mirror of the car.  You now are looking at what is in front of you and this is where your focus belongs!  Now the question is…who is driving?  Are you in the backseat just along for the ride not really considering nor caring about the destination (and maybe being an annoying backseat driver?!?)?  Are you in the passenger seat playing the role of ‘navigator’ or telling others where to go or what to do based on what you see or hear ahead?  Or are you in the driver’s seat doing the steering, shifting, stopping, speeding up, etc. on your terms?  Keeping in mind  there is no actual vehicle involved, you can be the driver in your life whether you can actually drive a car or not.  If you find yourself stuck in the back seat of your life, I encourage you to raise your hand and say, “I’d like to drive.”  It will take time and patience to make that transition from back seat to front seat, but know that, in the end, it will be worth it.  Heck, I had 30 private driving sessions before I took my test for my driver’s license…but I passed on the first attempt!

In summary, keeping these five key differences in mind and applying them accordingly in your life can have a great impact on your adult life for the better.  If you want to be taken seriously, it’s time to get and be serious!  When you start behaving like a man (or woman), people will begin to treat you like one in return.  After all, that is what you should see yourself as, a man or a woman, and that is how others should see you!


Tom Iland’s achievements include graduating from Cal State University Northridge, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and working in corporate America. Tom is now pursuing a professional career as a speaker and trainer sharing insights and practical advice with the Autism community. His new book Come to Life: A Guide to Transition to Adulthood (co-authored with Emily Iland) will be released this November.  Tom is a Board member for the Art of Autism nonprofit. to find out more about Tom visit his website – www.thomasiland.com.

If you have a story about The Art of Being a Man or Woman, we’d like to hear from you. Email theartofautism@ gmail.com or keri@normalfilms.com.

Other Articles by Tom Iland:

Come to life by joining clubs

What would you choose? big money or big dreams?

2 replies on “5 key steps to becoming a man”
  1. I agree that no one but ourselves can define us. For this reason, I don’t agree with functioning age comparisons.
    Great article! I need to forgive myself and other people for the mistakes in my life!

    We autists should not let labels that the neurotypical population gives us define who we are. For this reason, I don’t like functioning age level comparisons. The functioning age level stats mentioned in this article are likely from “cure it” groups. Functioning levels fluctuate depending on the situation. Stress can make one appear younger, but this does not make an adult a perpetual child. One would not compare a physically challenged adult with a child or young teenager. We autistic adults often need support to be independent, and there is no shame in that. We are our own minority group; comparing our chronological age with neurotypical (and often stereotypical) milestones do not really reflect our unique communities. We are a dynamic community that, given the right opportunities, can really shine. (I love that this article is written by a fellow autist! )

  2. says: admin

    Thank you Nicole for your astute comments. Tom’s perspective is not only valuable for the autistic community but for all. In my mind, many neurotypicals will never achieve the insights in their lives that Tom has shared in this article. So he has bypassed typical NT’s in maturity and insight.

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