Most teens with Asperger's Syndrome have been working to overcome social and behavioral challenges for their whole lives. Usually, kids are diagnosed when they're between three and five years old. What follows is years of intensive work to learn effective communication, develop an understanding of social interactions, and modify and minimize problem behaviors. Unfortunately, the physical, mental, and social changes that come with puberty can sometimes feel like a giant step backward. Suddenly, all the work you've done simply doesn't apply anymore. Fortunately, there are many coping methods to help with these challenges.
Coping with Mood Instability in Others
You may have noticed other teens becoming angry or sad over what seems like nothing to you. In part, this sudden emotional volatility is related to hormonal changes. According to Iowa State University, mood instability can start around the age of 11 or 12 and last until teens are about 16 or 17. During this period, teens can be more irritable and excitable, and they may emotionally "explode" over things that would not have upset them in the past. If you have Asperger's Syndrome, this behavior in other teens can be confusing and troubling. Here are a few ways to deal with it:
Use Active Listening
If someone is upset, try to use active listening. This means that you reflect how that person seems to feel by saying something like, "I can see you feel really upset about that." This may seem awkward, but it helps the other teen know that you understand.
Ask for an explanation. If another teen is upset and you can't understand why, wait until the other person calms down. Then ask what is wrong. Listen carefully to what the other person says. Simply knowing that you are listening may help the other teen feel better.
Leave Violent Situations
If another teen is angry with you and appears to be violent, leave the situation immediately. You can find out more about the details when the other teen has cooled off. In the meantime, talk to an adult about your concerns.
Don't Take It Personally
Try not to take the mood instability personally. Although it can seem confusing and even hurtful, this is a normal part of development. Be clear about your own needs and try to listen and help others; however, if that isn't possible, recognize that you are doing your best.
Coping with Mood Instability in Yourself
As if it isn't enough to try to understand the unstable moods of other teens, you're experiencing your own hormonal mood changes. As a younger child, you learned coping mechanisms for handling your own challenging feelings, but those mechanisms may no longer apply. You'll need a more adult way of identifying and dealing with your emotions.
Record Your Feelings
This free printable emotion journal is a good way to keep track of how you're feeling. You'll be able to work on identifying the trigger for your emotion and brainstorming ways to handle that situation in the future. If you record your emotions every day, eventually you'll find that you have a better understanding of how you're feeling and why you're feeling it.
Talk to Someone
If you find that your emotions are too much for you to handle alone, it's always a good idea to speak to an adult you trust. A parent, teacher, therapist, or school counselor can help you make sense of your changing emotions.
Coping with Physical Challenges
For many kids with Asperger's Syndrome, physical challenges just come with the territory. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, this awkwardness can be one of the hallmarks of AS. As a younger child, you may have received physical and occupational therapy or adaptive physical education to deal with this issue, and you may have graduated from these therapies during elementary school. Unfortunately, the growth spurt you encounter as a teenager can bring physical awkwardness back again. This can lead to social problems in gym class, as well as physical injuries.
It may seem like the opposite of what you'd like to do, but staying active can help you maintain your strength and improve your coordination. Choose a non-competitive activity like swimming, biking, or hiking.
Work on Coordination
Remember all those coordination activities you did as a kid? You'll need to do some of them again. One great idea is throwing a ball against a wall. Find a private place where no one else will see if you miss, and make a mark on the wall (with your parents' permission). Then throw the ball at the mark, trying to hit it each time. Try to catch the ball when it bounces back. Step back each time until you find the activity challenging.
Enlist a trusted friend or a parent to help you. You can work together on throwing and catching a ball, playing basketball, or doing another physical activity to improve your skills.
Don't Get Discouraged
Try not to get discouraged. Remember that a lot of kids, both neurotypical and those with Asperger's, struggle with coordination during the teen years. You'll get used to your new body in time.
Coping with Increased Expectations
In your teen years, teachers begin to load on the homework and expect greater responsibility from students. Parents may expect better organization and self-management as well. While in many ways, this increased responsibility is an honor, it's also a challenge. You've gotten used to meeting the old expectations, and when they change, this can be distressing.
Relieve Your Stress
Download this free list of seven stress-relieve tips for teens with AS. They may not all work for you, but one may be the key to handling the stress that comes with these changes.
Give Yourself Transitions
Try to provide transitions for yourself. If you know you'll need to change classes in five minutes, try reminding yourself every one minute until the bell rings. This type of warning can take some of the stress out of sudden transitions.
Talk About Expectations
If you're not sure how to meet a teacher's expectations, set up a time to talk to that teacher one-on-one or with your parents. These days, most teachers understand the challenges of Asperger's, and they are willing to make accommodations to help you succeed. This may be as simple as presenting information in a different way or describing the homework assignment a little differently.
Talk to Parents
Talk to your parents about your concerns too. They know you well and can help you figure out the best way to handle your stress.
Coping with Social Challenges and Dating
Just when you think you have the social world figured out, the teen years make things more complicated. According to the Talisman Programs, a network of schools specializing in Asperger's Syndrome, it's common for teens with AS to find dating a social interaction a challenge. The rules have changed, and other teens sometimes become very focused on pairing off or dating. It's common for teens with AS to start dating at later ages, sometimes long past the time when their neurotypical peers have started pairing off.
Don't Date Until You're Ready
Recognize that you should only date if you feel ready to. Don't worry if everyone else is dating and you're not. If you aren't ready, that is completely okay.
Limit Your Focus
Understand that teens with AS can sometimes find their single-minded focus directed at the teen who interests them. While it's difficult to control your special interest, this type of intense attention can drive the object of your affection away. If possible, try to keep your focus on something else while exploring this relationship.
Talk About AS with Your Significant Other
If you are in a relationship, consider explaining your Asperger's diagnosis to your significant other. Understanding where you're coming from can help the other person communicate with you.
Always make sure you're safe when you go on a date or go out with friends. Have money and a cell phone with you, and stick to public, well-lit places. Leave any situation that feels dangerous.
Take a Class
Consider taking a class in social skills designed specifically for teens with AS. You can find this type of class by talking with your school guidance counselor or getting recommendations from teachers or therapists.
Help for Depression
In some teens, all of these social challenges can lead to depression. While feeling depressed from time to time can be normal, clinical depression interferes with daily life because the dread and hopelessness are inescapable. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a partner organization of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that can help teenagers recognize the signs of depression. In addition, the site has an online support group, as well as in-person support groups, that visitors can find through the site's searchable database. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance does not focus exclusively on teens with Asperger's, but the organization can help you find the help you need.
Books and Resources
Books and resources for teenagers with Asperger's can offer invaluable advice for teens struggling with social skills challenges, sensory difficulties, and other unique issues. For more help with coping methods, try one of these products.
The following books can help you cope with the challenges of the teen years:
- Social Skills for Teenagers and Adults with Asperger's: A Practical Guide to Day-to-Day Life by Nancy J. Patrick offers practical strategies that address social interactions using real-life scenarios.
- The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper has activities that can help build social skills for teenagers with Asperger's and other social learning disorders.
- Freaks, Geeks and Asperger's Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence is unique because it is written by a teenager who has Asperger's. Luke Jackson offers invaluable insight, wit and strategies for dealing with a number of issues teens with high functioning autism face.
These resources can also help:
- OASIS @ MAAP is a partner organization of NIMH that offers access to local, national and international help and services for people with Asperger's. Visitors can browse for information or they can buy a membership for about $35 per year.
- The Asperger's Syndrome Education Network (ASPEN) provides links to local and online support groups, conferences and information.
- Model Me Kids sells videos for modeling social skills for individuals on the spectrum ages 2 to 17. Topics include organization, conversation cues, friendships and more.
- Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) is a social skills intervention class for teenagers in junior high and high school. The evidence-based class that lasts 14 weeks and is offered all year long. The program costs about $1400, but many insurance companies may cover part of the fees. Teens who are unable to go to the classes personally may benefit from the PEERS Training Manual.
If you need help downloading a LoveToKnow printable, check out these helpful tips.
You Aren't Alone
Remember that you aren't alone in facing these challenges. If you're feeling depressed or just need guidance in an area of your life, take a moment to talk to your parents or a trusted teacher or therapist. These adults care about you and can help.