Autism, regardless of age, is challenging on the best of days. The teen years can be very challenging due to hormones, the desire to fit in, etc. for a typical child. There is hope, however, for helping your teenager with autism thrive in her surroundings. You simply need to think outside the box and make some adjustments to make her the most successful. Making her successful as a teenager is no different than making her successful at anything else. Her success is paramount to everything else.
7 Tips For Helping Your Teenager With Autism Thrive
- Always have non verbal ways for your teenager to communicate directly with you and others (family and friends) no matter what. This provides another added layer of comfort for them as well as you. I have this to be true for every teenager not only ones with autism. This form of nonverbal communication should grow over time and adapt with your child’s growing self awareness and capabilities. Take time to teach them how to communicate using adaptive technology gradually and ensure you both understand how to use it. Both of my children have smartphones that they use to text me when they need help or have a question they don’t know how to ask. It’s a great way to keep the lines of communication open. It alleviates the need to ask a question in front of everyone as well as gives them a chance to verbalize their feelings and needs without the fear of being judged by others. I confess that it also works for them to tell me how their feeling by text rather than vocalize it when they don’t always understand societal niceties. Saves them and me from embarrassment.
- Be consistent from setting to setting. Children with autism,especially teenagers with autism, need consistency as much as possible. Take extraordinary care to keep their Autismland as consistent as possible,especially their schedules. This consistency allows them to function at their highest and best without the worry of what is happening next in their world. Be consistent in your expectations and rewards to them as well. Make sure they know what is expected of them in advance. No one likes surprises ,especially in autism.
- Continue to reward good behavior when you see them doing it on their own. Everyone likes to be rewarded for the good that they do more than they like to be punished for their mistakes. Reward your teenager and celebrate their goodness. This positive reinforcement goes a long way. You do not have to be fancy with rewards. Keep it simple and consistent especially when they learn a new skill or complete a chore consistently. This will create an environment where your teen with autism thrives consistently.
- Give them their own “safety zone” within the home. This is extremely important. It can be their bedroom and/or a special space in the family room. Make sure it is theirs alone and take great care to make it special to them. Think along the lines of a private escape or added comfort zone to take a break when needed. Now would also be a great time to redo their bedroom to reflect this new stage in their life. To this day, we host holiday celebrations in our home so Logan has somewhere to retreat when he’s done peopling. If you must go somewhere else, make sure there is a safe zone for your child to regroup in and that she knows where it is immediately.
- Read Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence, written by Luke Jackson. This book is great reading and helps you both get it right. Although I do not care for the title, this book can and will become your guide through the teenage years. Loaded with humor, you need to read it to help your teenager thrive without recreating the wheel. It’s always smart to learn tips and tricks from parents who have walked this road before you. Bear in mind though that what works with one child with autism may or may not work with another child. You know your child best.
- Look into a social skills group especially for teenagers with autism. This can be priceless tool to help master them interacting with their peers. It may be as simple as having them join a group with a common interest. The key to this one is that it must be an in person event. Don’t be fooled into thinking they are working on social skills while online. While you certainly can work on social nuances and inflection online, reading body language and learning how to interact with a group is best done in person. Can’t find a group in your area? Take care to go on outings for the sole purpose of practicing and mastering social skills.
- Update their life plan to include hygiene as well as life skills. This is a must and should actually be updated for elementary school, middle school and high school. This allows you to stay ahead of the curve of physical body changes as well as expectations inside and outside of the home. It also reminds you to teach about things like shaving or menstruation before it becomes a necessity. You can’t expect your child, with or without autism, to automatically know what to do in those instances. At this stage in life too, you need to take the stance that the more your child with autism can do for herself, the less likely she will be victimized by others who won’t have her best interests at heart. You have to think ahead to the adult years and making her as independent as possible.
Parenting has never been easy.The fact that you’re reading this article tells me that you really want what’s best for your child and want to help your teenager with autism thrive. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve made it this far. Enjoy the teenage years. You’ve worked hard for their success. Forget the society that tells you teenagers are worse than toddlers. Teenagers are fun. Take pride in the person they are becoming and take steps to help your teenager with autism thrive and soar to new heights.