The Teen with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Most experts do a great job of presenting the problems children with Autism Spectrum Disorder face during their adolescent years. Unfortunately, they offer few solutions.
This two-part article presents problems teens face (Part 1) and gives suggestions that have worked for parents of teens with ASD (Part 2). Click here for Part 1 – Problems
How Parents Can Help Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Parents of teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder face many problems others parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their ASD child how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, “There’s so little time, and so much left to do.” They face issues such as vocational training, teaching independent living, and providing lifetime financial support for their child. Meanwhile, their spectrum child is often indifferent, immature, or even hostile to these concerns.
Here is how thirteen-year-old Luke Jackson, author of Freaks, Geeks and Asperger, wrote about being an Asperger teen: “Are you listening to me?’ ‘Look at me when I am talking to you.’ As kids, how familiar are those words? Don’t they just make you groan? (And that’s putting it politely!) …When I look someone straight in the eye… the feeling is so uncomfortable that I cannot really describe it. First of all, I feel as if their eyes are burning me and I really feel as if I am looking into the face of an alien.”
Once a child with ASD enters the teen years, his parents have to use reasoning and negotiation, instead of providing direction. Like all teenagers, he/she is harder to control and less likely to listen to parents. An ASD child may be tired of parents nagging to look people in their eyes, brush teeth, and wake up on time for school. He/she may hate school because of social ostracism or academic failure.
Effective Ways Parents of Teens with ASD Deal with Common Issues
School and Residential Settings
If the pressures to conform are too great, if he/she faces constant harassment and rejection, or if the principal and teaching staff do not cooperate with you as parents, it may be time to find another school. During the teen years, many parents decide it is in their child’s best interest to enter special education or a therapeutic boarding school or get more intensive treatment.
In a residential setting, professionals guide your child academically and socially on a twenty-four-hour basis. They offer expert, real-time feedback and assistance. Residential staff do not allow teens to isolate themselves with video games–everyone has to participate in social activities to the best of their abilities. In addition, academic counseling staff often helps with college placements.
If you decide to work within a public school system, you may have to hire a lawyer to get needed services. Your child should have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and accommodations for the learning disabled. This may mean placement in small classes, tutors, and special arrangements for gym and lunchtime. He should receive extra time for college board examinations.
Teach your child to find a “safe place” at school where he can share emotions with a trusted professional. The safe place may be the offices like the school nurse, guidance counselor, or psychologist.
Appearance and Hygiene
Because of their sensitivity to textures, children with ASD often wear the same clothes day in and out. This is unacceptable in middle or high school. One idea that has worked for some parents is to find a teen of the same age and sex as yours and enlist that person help you choose clothes helping your child to blend in with other teens. Insist that your teen practices good hygiene every day. Set a regular routine for self-care and daily living skills.
When he/she was little, you could arrange playdates for your child. Now you have to teach how to initiate contact with others. Instruct your child how to leave phone messages and arrange details of social contacts such as transportation and scheduling. Encourage joining high school clubs like chess or drama. It is not necessary to tell your child’s peers that she has Autism Spectrum Disorder–let your ASD child do that so it helps build responsibility and independence.
In addition, many teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder are enjoying each other’s company through Internet chatrooms, forums and message boards. This is a great outlet, but you don’t want it to be the only source of your child’s social interactions.
Sex and Intimate Relationships
You absolutely have to teach your teen with Autism Spectrum Disorder about sex. You will not be able to “talk around” the issue. You have to be specific and detailed about safe sex. Since children with autism and other developmental delays are more susceptible to sexual abuse, teach your child to tell you about inappropriate touching by others. Your child may need remedial “sex education”. For example, a girl needs to understand she is too old to sit on laps or give hugs to strangers. A boy might have to learn to close stall doors in public bathrooms.
Summer and Part-Time Jobs
Most of these jobs –movie usher, fast food worker, store clerk, etc. — involve interaction with the public which might not be a good fit. Some children with ASD can find work involving their special interests or in jobs having less social interactions. Encouraging your child to get a job reinforces independent skills and provides a “soft landing” for getting out of their comfort zone.
Most children with ASD can learn to drive, but their process may take longer because of poor motor coordination. Once they learn a set of rules, they are likely to follow them to the letter – a trait that helps in driving. An issue child with ASD may have is trouble dealing with unexpected situations on the road. Have your child carry a cell phone and give him a printed card that explains Autism Spectrum Disorder. Teach him to give the card to a police officer and phone you in a crisis.
Drugs and Alcohol
Many children on the spectrum have medications to help with coping and anxiety. Alcoholic drinks or recreational drugs often react adversely with your child’s prescriptions. You have to teach your child about these dangers. Since most children with ASD are very rule-oriented, try emphasizing that drugs and alcohol are illegal.
Life After High School
If your teen is college-bound, you have to prepare him/her for this major experience. You can plan a trip to the campus, show where to buy books, where to find health services, and so forth. Teach your ASD child how to handle everyday problems such as “Where do you buy deodorant?” and “What if you oversleep and miss a class?”