Special issues for autistic teens include many of the normal challenges neurotypical teenagers face. In addition, adolescents diagnosed on the autism spectrum face other obstacles as well. Parents may be concerned with social adaptation, sexual issues, and career planning.
Special Issues for Autistic Teens
Being a teenager is difficult and it can be extremely challenging for kids on the autism spectrum. One of the biggest challenges across the board is social adaptation and this applies to teenagers in general. However, the nature of autism makes it very complicated during this tender time of life.
Every teen with autism is unique. Some function remarkably well even in demanding social situations while others may seem oblivious to others. It is important to communicate with a nonverbal teen as if she understands what you are saying. This involves talking directly to him with respect, using signs, gestures or Picture Exchange Communication System to augment communication.
Some teenagers want to interact with other teens but they don't know how while others may not be interested in becoming socially active. Creating a safe environment that encourages appropriate interaction can be of great benefit. This includes using The Gray Center's Social Stories, prompts and modeling.
Puberty is a dramatic time of life that is filled with plenty of emotion and hormones. Sexuality is a primary concern during this stage since the delicate rules for appropriate behaviors and impulses may conflict from time to time. Maintaining physical boundaries and developing a sense of appropriate behavioral follow through can help.Planning for this stage is of the utmost importance and the preteen years is a great place to begin. Parents can work with their children's treatment team to develop a proactive plan of action, including crisis intervention. The educational and behavioral strategies should be appropriate for the teen's level of functioning.
Special issues for autistic teens and sexuality include:
- Distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate touching
- Communicating about an inappropriate touch or action
- Physical changes
- Maintaining physical boundaries with others
- Refraining from self-touch
- Dealing with menstrual cycles
While it may be tempting to use euphemisms only confuses the matter. Use concrete language that relates directly to the subject makes the process easier. Parents and caretakers can introduce euphemisms and figurative language once the concepts are adopted.
Self Help Skills
Self help skills include hygiene, which can be a challenge for some teenagers on the autism spectrum. Issues with fine motor skills, compliance, and sensory problems can interfere with a teen's progress. Creating a systematic approach to grooming and hygiene offers a great way to incorporate these elements into the teen's daily routine.
In many cases, the best approach is to break down each task into doable steps, rewarding each success. Using positive reinforcement is a great source of encouragement. Using music, tokens, and verbal praise can be motivating even during the teenage years. Techniques like applied behavioral analysis are ideal for this strategy.
Planning for the Future
Transitions for autistic teens into adulthood is a significant issue. The transition plan for a teenager with autism should be introduced when she is 13 or 14 years old. Many introduce the plan when their teen is about to enter high school. Sheila Wagner Ph.D. addresses the issue of transitioning into adulthood in an interview with ABC News, What Are The Key Components Of A High School-To-Adult Transition Plan?.
Some families choose homeschooling as an educational option. Homeschooling an autistic child involves considerable commitment but it may be a good alternative to public education in some situations.
High Functioning Hurdles
Teenagers who have high functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome may be socially awkward because they are likely to be unable to process social cues, which may include body language, sarcasm, humor, figurative language, emotional responses, and facial expressions. These nuances of social interaction fall unnoticed to the teen with autism.
The complication lies in the fact that the social blindness has not physical manifestations. The autistic teenager seems to lack empathy and may appear to be rude. However, asking a person with autism how someone else feels is much like asking a blind person what his favorite color is. He simply cannot see it and the person with autism cannot perceive it. Parents of some neurotypical may follow the belief that autism is not a real condition, making kids on the spectrum more likely to be teased in community and school settings. While the challenges low functioning teens are great, they may be more likely to find compassion to those who do not understand pervasive developmental disorders. Hopefully, autism awareness is heightened, allowing for tolerance and acceptance for kids on the spectrum.