The teenage years can be trying for all who pass through them, and for their families, too. Anxiety, peer relationships, sexuality, school pressures — the teenage years are filled with major issues to navigate at a time when the body is changing rapidly as well.
Puberty has made him very angry and emotional at times. It can be a bit like having a really huge toddler in the house — scary! On a positive note I find I can have some great conversations with him. He has a really good and quirky sense of humour. On his good days he can be great company. On his bad days, it’s not fun at all.
Quote from the Complete Autism Handbook
While there are ample resources to assist families with young children on the autism spectrum, there are fewer addressing issues faced by teens and adults. Following are some of the most valuable resources we’ve collated to help support your teen and you.
The importance of good professional support
Teenagers on the spectrum face many challenges.
Anxiety is extremely common, occurring at a much higher rate than seen in typically developing teens. Depression can also occur in ASD, especially as young people become aware of their differences and social ‘failures’.
Many teenagers retreat to the safety and security of their computers at this time, but if you’re a young person who struggles to understand the social rules, even using social media can be fraught. Unfortunately, these differences can also lead to bullying, including cyberbullying.
School can also become more demanding. Children who shone academically in primary school can see their marks start dropping when learning becomes increasingly self-directed and they are required to plan out assignments and formulate essays with a logical structure. Homework can become a daily battleground.
Finally, the transition to adulthood and struggle to find paid employment after school is another issue that raises its head in adolescence.
It’s important to identify competent professionals who can support your teen and provide guidance to your family at this time — even if your teen appears not to be struggling now, you don’t want to be left without support if a significant challenge arises. We encourage families to have on their side a good paediatrician and, ideally, a good child and adolescent psychologist who regularly works with teens. You can read more about the role of psychologists here.
A trusted GP or other allied health care provider can be good source for recommendations, as can other parents of teens on the spectrum.
Sexuality & relationships
Sexuality — the way a person feels about their body and attraction to and intimacy with others — is an importance part of human development. While preteens and teens with ASD develop physically on the same time line as their peers, they often need additional support to manage the challenges that come along with developing sexuality.
It’s essential that children and teenagers with ASD be provided with developmentally appropriate sex education — covering puberty changes, personal hygiene, social skills, contraception, sexual behaviour, and rights and wrongs — adjusted to suit the cognitive abilities of the child. Without it your teen will be exposed to genuine risks, including pregnancy, sexual abuse and accusations of sexual deviancy.
It can be comforting and empowering for teens of the spectrum to know that they are not alone, that there are many other teens in the world who see and process the world in a similar way to them. Below are some resources featuring the voices of young people with autism (both speaking and non-speaking), as well as books by autistic authors that are targeted to teens. Parents can also learn a lot from their insights.
Sexuality and relationships for teenagers with ASD – Raising Children Network
Sex Safe and Fun — Family Planning Australia
Sex Ed for Self Advocates – Organisation For Autism Research
Making Sense of Sex: A Forthright Guide to Puberty, Sex and Relationships for People with Asperger’s Syndrome – Sarah Attwood
Sexuality and Relationship Education for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders – Davida Hartman, illustrated by Kate Brangan
Sexuality and Severe Autism: A practical guide for parents, caregivers and health educators — KE Reynolds
Asperger and autism forum community – Wrong Planet
Living being autistic – Emma’s Hope Book
Growing up autistic – Autistic, Not Weird
Freaks, Geeks, and Asperger Syndrome: A User’s Guide to Adolescence – Luke Jackson
The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not So Obvious Social Rules for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome– Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Sisterhood of the Spectrum – Jennifer Cool O’Toole
Mental Health and Bullying
Autism Teen Well-being — Autism CRC / Queensland University of Technology
Find a Psychologist —Australian Psychological Society
Bullying. No Way! — Federal Government
Anxiety in Autism – The Autism Research Group
Using Social Media on the Autism Spectrum — Jennifer Artesani Blanks for PsychCentral
Low mood and depression: teenagers with autism spectrum disorder – Raising Children
Self-identity and self-esteem for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder – Raising Children
Bullying: children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder – Raising Children
Cyberbullying – Raising Children
Autism through the Lifespan – Autism Society of America
13 Things Parents of Teens With Autism Need to Know – Chantal Sicile-Kira for Psychology Today
Autism in the Teenage Years: What to expect, how to help – Interactive Autism Network
The Complete Autism Handbook by Benison O’Reilly and Kathryn Wicks
Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Helping Preteens and Teens Get Ready for the Real World by Bolick , Ph.D.
Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Practical Solutions for School Success by Brenda Smith Myles, Diane Adreon
Asperger Syndrome in Adolescence: Living with the Ups, the Downs and Things in Between by Liane Holliday Willey