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Chantal Sicile-Kira
Chantal Sicile-Kira

Is their autism getting worse when they reach puberty?

Teens with autism have same challenges as other teens.

Something happens when children turn into teenagers. They go from demanding your attention to wanting their independence. For those on the spectrum, it may look like non-compliance; they don't seem to want to follow through on your requests anymore. As a parent it may be hard to appreciate, but this is a necessary development. Being appropriately non-compliant is a positive step towards self-advocacy. However, it is important to differentiate between appropriate teenage non-compliance, and problem behaviors that must be stopped. As a parent it's important to support your teen as he struggles to become his own person.

When tweens on the spectrum go through puberty and hit the teen years, they also have the same hormones acting up as the neurotypical teens, and they feel the need to be more independent, only they don't have the same outlets as neurotypicals to show their independence. Thus we see more defiant and on-compliant behavior.

Neurotypical teens are able to communicate to us that they are needing independence, they need more time away from their parents, and more choice over how they will spend their time. Sometimes they start acting up by staying out later than a pre-established curfew, go to parties, and get into environments where they have to make choices about their behavior. They usually have friends, and start negotiating with us to change our house rules in regards to their social outings. At school, they are involved in small group project or on sports teams and they get to make choices that effect the team.

For example, my daughter, Rebecca, loves alternative rock concerts, and has been asking to attend them since she was 11 years old. Now, at 17, the rules have changed in regards to attending concerts. When she was 11, she could go on a weekend night with a few friends if there was a trusted parent who went with them and stayed with them the whole time, and she had to be home at a certain time. Now at 17, she is allowed to stay out later, does not have to have an adult accompany her, and at times can go during the week, depending on school and sport schedule. The rules changed because as she got older, Rebecca argued her case to us, her parents, about why she should be allowed to stay out later, and to show her responsibility.

Pre-teens and teens with autism, however, don't usually negotiate or tell their parents they need more space, even if they are verbal. They rarely have opportunities outside the home with other teens that are testing their parents authority. Yet, they have the same hormones and the same urge to have more freedom. This leads to non-compliance - which is never any fun for those involved.

So, how can we as parents and educators provide them more freedom, more space? Here are some tips:

  • Give them more opportunities to make choices, within parameters. For example, if a teenager has had a schedule to stick to after school, why not give him the choice of what order to do it in?
  • At school, provide more opportunities for making choices, perhaps in choosing the group activity, or more control over planning his schedule, and in how he spends his day.
  • Give him or her the choice of what the family will eat for dinner, (within limits) once or twice a week – maybe he can even go do the shopping and help prepare for the meal with a helper. responsibility, and that is a lesson all teens need to learn.
  • Instead of always planning activities or outing for your teen on the weekends, pick one day where your teen can choose on a regular basis what his afternoon will look like.

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About the Author
Chantal Sicile-Kira

Chantal Sicile-Kira is an autism consultant, speaker and author of five books, including A Full Life with Autism. Chantal specializes in adolescence and transition planning.

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