Lately, I have been receiving an abundance of emails from parents about their children with autism who are now entering the teen years. "Help," they write. "His / her autism is getting worst; what can I do?" The reality is - their autism is not getting worse, they are becoming teenagers! Having a teenager on the spectrum and one that is neurotypical provides a parent with great perspective on what is normal teenage behavior, and what is due to autism. I used to preface the seminars I give on autism and adolescence by saying, "I have two teenagers: one severely impacted by autism, the other by hormones." I also tell my audience that the year my oldest son hit puberty is the year I discovered martinis and began running 4 miles a day instead of two. Adolescence and autism each on their own can be difficult, together they form a volatile mix, and as a parent you need to find ways to relieve the resulting stress.
Besides becoming more non-compliant, major challenges with any teenager is that sometime during the teen years most of them become un-communicative, moody, don't want to spend time with you, and never want to do what you want to do. When tweens with autism go through puberty, they have the same hormonal activity taking place as the neurotypical teens do. Thus, they can become even more non-communicative, moody and unpredictable- only they don't have the same outlets as neurotypicals in which to express their teenage-hood....
It's important if you are a parent (or an educator for that matter) that you know a few important facts about teenage behavior - whether on or off the autism spectrum - to put things into perspective. Here is my list of top 13 things every parent and educator needs to know about teenagers in general:
13. Teenage behavior cannot be blamed on mercury, vaccinations, or the parents' genetics.
12. Some teenagers care about smelling good. Or not.
11. Some like orderliness. Or not.
10. Teenagers do not learn good self-esteem by themselves.
9. Teenagers like to make their own choices. They are not usually the same as yours.
8. Teenagers do not develop good organizational skills through osmosis.
7. Moodiness is a normal teenage state of mind.
6. Raging hormones are part and parcel of being a teenager.
5. Self regulation is an important life skill not practiced by teenagers.
4. Teenagers are never hungry at the same time as the rest of the family.
3. Masturbation is normal teenage activity.
2. Discussing sex with your parents is not.
1. As a parent, you will survive the teen years. Barely.
Although autism and adolescence together can form a turbulent mix, with some strategies in place, the teen years can become a time of positive growth. Next week I'll post some tips here to help you and your teen to survive and hopefully grow in a positive way. Until then, if you can't wait, you can read some of them in my short book 41 Things to Know About Autism. Parents and educators who are looking for more more indepth information about the teen years and transition may want to consult my book, Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum. As well, I will be offering a series of webinars on the topic in upcoming months on my new website. Stay tuned here or on my current website.
Meanwhile, till I write more here next week, make sure to take care of your self and indulge in some form of healthy and legal stress-releasing activity.