The terrible twos and the tricky teens are often severe endurance tests for parents. It’s quite normal to wonder whether we will survive them without a nervous breakdown or violence or both! For the parents of autistic children, these phases are especially challenging.
Read on for 4 key ways parents can support autistic teenagers
- Raging hormones
They are part and parcel of adolescence for all teenagers including those on the autistic spectrum. The consensus is: start talking as early and openly as possible about puberty and bodily changes. Don’t assume your child will automatically absorb the rules of engagement on the teenage social interaction scene; spell them out clearly. Prepare your child for rejection – the adolescent dating world is a cruel one for all participants but could hit your offspring particularly hard. Autistic teenagers may not grasp the fine line between private and public information – masturbation and menstruation are off limits as dinner time conversation topics whereas beard shaving or make up are fine.
- Cutting the apron strings
Like any teenager, autistic youth make a bid for independence. As parents of an autistic child, it’s normal to want to shield them from the rough and tumble of life but we have to let go. Really. It’s only fair to allow our adolescents some independence and control over their lives. If not, they will almost certainly rebel, making the home more like a war zone than a place of refuge. Small steps are the key here. Give your son/daughter some limited choices over their leisure time for instance. Let them go to familiar places unaccompanied. Yes, I know it’s scary but holding them back isn’t doing your teenager any favours in the long run.
- Making friends
As we all know, this can be particularly challenging for those on the autistic spectrum. Sadly, it can often become even harder during adolescence as social interactions become more complex than in early childhood. Being cool is the name of the game. Avoidance or bullying by peers is unfortunately commonplace. This could cause autistic children to withdraw into a world of their own. They may become depressed or even suicidal, as a result of their ‘failure’ to succeed in the cruel world of adolescence. How can you help? If your child has a particular interest in say chess or computer games, try linking them up with others with a similar interest. That way, they’ll bond over an activity without the need for much communication. Oh and another thing. Personal hygiene is crucial. Some autistic teenagers resist soap and water. Smelling bad will not help them make friends. Trust me, daily showering is a must!
- The leap from elementary to high school
This is a complicated time for most children as they grapple with bigger schools, moving from classroom to classroom, keeping track of books and assignments for each lesson. As we know, autistic children like routine and consistency and may become confused by all this disruption. Parents, reach out. Schools have support systems for children with special needs to make the transition to high school as smooth as possible. Keep the lines of communication between home and school open so your child can achieve his or her learning potential.
Parents, believe me, chances are, you will survive the turbulence of adolescence. Yes, there will be storms and earthquakes along the way. That’s normal, seriously. Keep talking to your child as well as to parents who are at this stage too – they will understand exactly what you’re going through and may be able to supply a helpful tip or two!