Teens and young adults
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.
Psychologists can provide ongoing social skills support, and information on sexuality. There may also be short-term social skills training and social skills groups in your area, and specific relationships support.
A trusted GP or other allied health care provider can be good source for recommendations, as can other parents of teens on the spectrum.
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.
Children on the autism spectrum often need more time than their peers to deal with major changes, included the changes that will come during puberty. Puberty typically starts between 10-11 years for girls and between 11-13 for boys (though actual starting times can vary greatly for individual children).
From mid to late primary school, it’s a great idea to start skilling up on how to explain the wonders of puberty.
It’s best to be very clear and very direct about all the changes that will happen and, as ever, to use pictures and diagrams to help children who are visual learners.
Many teenagers will continue on with the supports and services which they used during the primary school years, like speech and occupational therapies.
The Raising Children website has the following useful resources:
- A video about Therapies and supports for autistic teenagers: Parent stories here.
- Therapies and supports for older autistic children and teenagers here.
- The Autism: behaviour section has information about teenagers and behaviour.