When Kids with Autism Hit Puberty
What does the future hold? Dating? Bullying in high school? College? Will my child be able to fend for himself when he is an adult? What about work? These are just some of the most frequent questions posed by stressed parents of a child with special needs.
All are about the same struggle: the concern about what their child's life will be like as he grows and the degree of independence he can achieve. There's even a mainstream topic that is more frequently asked than what we thought… what about shaving?
Raising an autistic child is challenging. Learning how to handle it is a process — it doesn't happen right away… but with time it will happen. Parents may wonder how the physical and hormonal changes of puberty will affect their child on the spectrum. There is very little information about this topic since most scientific research has focused on autism in childhood. However, children with autism are growing, and while they do – the manifestations of the spectrum also change.
If surviving being a teenager is hard enough, imagine how challenging parenting one is. It isn’t an easy feat. Now add the ASD diagnosis and you'll likely have a recipe for a unique set of challenges for the entire family.
With that said, puberty is a complex stage of development in which various changes occur, not only physical, but also psychological. These can be more or less difficult to face. The adolescent with autism is not exempt from these changes but, unlike the rest of his peers, it is much more difficult to deal with them because he has other challenges – challenges linked with interpersonal relationships, social and executive skills, management of emotions, even personal hygiene. This becomes a whole new territory for everyone involved. We’ve outlined a few of the main challenges your child will face and have provided some ideas around how you can help him navigate that road.
School Assignments for Adolescents with an ASD diagnosis
Cognitive flexibility is and will remain an issue for our autistic kids as they get older. Especially when their teachers ask for more abstract assignments that they can't complete through memorization. The best practice and what specialists recommend is to get in touch with their doctor/teacher and come up with a detailed plan on how to improve each skill.
Understanding Your Austic Teen’s Social Needs
Even if they escape bullying, many teens on the spectrum struggle with social isolation and anxiety – and this is completely normal. A lot of special education studies prove that teens with ASD are less likely to take part in social activities than adolescents with speech and language disorders, learning disabilities or intellectual disabilities.
Everyone thinks they want to be alone, but they actually don’t. In reality, they would love to have friends. Like everybody else, they want to be accepted too. Finding a special activity can help them connect with someone that has the same interest.
The Journey of Personal Hygiene for Kids with an ASD
Handling personal hygiene early on is a must. Each passage from elementary school to middle school to high school provides its own set of unique challenges. Most of the teenagers on the spectrum may need reminders about the importance of having good personal hygiene (research shows that they have less social motivation to smell and look clean.) We need to acknowledge their sensory needs and accept that they may not have the skills to address the issue.
Before we get worried about if that can cause bullying at school, let's try explaining to them, step by step, the importance and mechanics of good hygiene, writing the instructions down on a piece of paper is the best way to accomplish this. Usually, it is difficult for them to remember a lot of steps, so try reducing them to 3 or 4. The fewer steps the better. Here is an example of a hygiene checklist. You can put it on the inside bathroom door and keep track of improvements!
Helping Your Autistic Teen Navigate the Road to Adulthood
There are so many different points of view when interpreting autism or other exceptionalities, either from a medical or from a social perspective that takes into account economic, political, cultural and several other factors.
But instead of seeing it as a lack of something "that is not normal", we should see it as a way of reflecting on how different people are. Because, after all, differences helps= us learn more, get more, and add more substance to day to day life in society.
Most importantly, never underestimate the potential of your child. Motivate him, offer space, encouragement, and always expect him to fully develop his abilities.