Being a teenager is hard for a “normal” kid -- add autism to the hormones and you end up with a volatile mix. The teenage years are marked with many changes, including going to high school and transitioning to adulthood. The less charming indicators of the teenage state, including uncommunicative behavior and poor hygiene habits, seem even more pronounced in teenagers with autism. While some of the tricks you used when your child was younger will still work in his teen years, you might have to create some new routines to help your teen through this time.
Things You'll Need
- Chore chart
- Binders for IEP reports and therapist's notes
- Support group
- Special needs trust
- University class schedules and handouts
Make a routine and stick to it. Your teen’s schedule will likely change, as he probably will go to a new school and might sign up for new extracurricular activities. Write out a weekly and monthly schedule and give frequent reminders to your teenager. Keep a regular eating and bedtime schedule.
Encourage your autistic teenager to participate in extracurricular activities that interest him. Many of these activities will give your teen social skills while also teaching valuable life strategies needed to live independently or that focus on a particular vocation. If your teen is interested in computers, teach him keyboarding skills and sign him up for a coding class.
Stay involved in your teen’s Individualized Education Plan, called the IEP; this document outlines goals for your child and how each therapist and teacher will help your child reach those goals. His treatment team, including teachers and therapists, will likely change as he changes schools, but it is up to you to maintain consistency. Communicate concerns and treatment goals to the new treatment team. You can request an IEP meeting any time you feel your child’s needs are not being met. The high school IEP should also include a transition plan, which focuses on the skills your child should acquire during high school that are necessary for life after graduation.
Establish communication strategies with your teen. You both might become angry and frustrated with one another, so it’s important to have some verbal or nonverbal cue that indicates you both need a minute to calm down. Your teen might prefer to use e-mail to communicate rather than a conversation.
Be consistent with discipline and follow through with punishment. Use times of discipline as a teachable moment -- for example, ask your teenager what he thinks he should do when he becomes angry. This strategy teaches problem solving and coping strategies.
Find a mentor your teenager feels comfortable talking to. Even neurotypical teens don’t always like talking to their parents, so it might be a good idea to find a relative or medical professional in which your teen will confide if he needs help.
Continue to teach daily care habits. Encourage your teen to make his bed, take a shower each day, brush his teeth and do his laundry, but try not to nag so much that it causes frequent fights.
Go on college campus visits and encourage your teen to take part in a sleep-away camp. These activities help with the transition toward independent living or going to college. Not all teenagers with autism are ready for college, but some schools do offer support to individuals with disabilities. Investigate these programs at all your school visits. Determine whether or not your teen will live at home after graduation.
Get respite when you need it. Taking a much-needed break does not make you a bad parent, and ensuring your mind and body are healthy is actually better for your teenager. Set up a support network of friends, family or mental health professional.
Tips & Warnings
- If you have not set up a will or special needs trust, do it now. You will need to speak to a lawyer about guardianship, and you should set aside money for continued care as your child transitions into adulthood.
- If your teen's autism is accompanied by increased aggression or violent behavior, consult your child's pediatrician or medical professional immediately.
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