Growing up can be difficult. Puberty, dating, junior high, and all of the social pressures that arise are daunting for teens trying to figure it out. For a teen with autism, these challenges are amplified. Confusion and sometimes fear can arise from the changes happening both to their bodies and in their environment.
As an autism parent, it is essential to be prepared for your child’s transition into their teenage years. Your child should feel supported as they navigate one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
From changing bodies to sexual feelings, puberty will affect teens immensely. They will be presented with physical evidence of their transition.
It is likely that girls will be getting their first period during this time. Prepare by speaking to your daughter about menstruation, what it is and what will happen to her body. Use visual aids to explain types of feminine hygiene products, how to use them, and how to dispose of them. Start early, before her first period, to get her accustomed to the routine.
To read more about preparing your daughter for menstruation, check out our blog post on the subject.
Boys might begin exploring their sexuality by touching themselves. While this is a completely normal development, they might not know when it is appropriate to do so. Talk to your child about how touching themselves is a private matter, and that they should only do it in their bedroom, and not in the bathroom or in public.
If these conversations are difficult to approach, consider talking to your child’s therapist first for guidance or the opportunity to discuss it with your child as a unit.
2. Grooming and Hygiene
Hygiene and grooming are essential for developing teens. Bad smells and dirty clothes are off-putting and can lead to social exclusion. Those with autism might not understand these social requirements, so it is important to teach your child to take daily showers and to wear a fresh change of clothes every day. If your child does not like showers, try to figure out why that might be. If it’s sensory issues with the water pressure, allow them to use a cup to disperse water, giving them more control over the process.
Additionally, new self-care products such as deodorant and face wash might be difficult to add to their daily routine. However, it is important and can be helpful to ease into any schedule or bathroom to-do lists you might already have.
Check out our blog post about sensory-friendly, adaptive clothing to make shopping and changing clothes easier for your child.
3. Junior High and High School
Unlike elementary school, junior high and high school classes are more fast-paced and abstract, requiring a shift to multiple classrooms and teachers. Classes will be more advanced, and if your child is learning in an integrated setting, they will be expected to complete more elaborate assignments. To support your child, communicate often with their teachers and staff. Arrange extended due dates and tips for breaking down projects into smaller steps to make them easier for your child to complete. Remind your child often that grades are not an accurate representation of their intellect or ability, especially if they struggle with the workload.
If your child shows interest in extracurricular activities, such as sports, art, or band, support their passions. These activities can be an effective way to introduce your child to new friends and social interactions.
Unfortunately, this is the time when teens decide what and who is “cool” and “uncool.” They tend to form cliques and exclude those who don’t fit their standards. According to research, nearly two-thirds of children with autism between the ages of 6 and 15 have been bullied.
Bullying can lead to lower self-esteem, anxiety, isolation, and a reluctance to attend school. Teach your child about friendship and how these relationship look like to help them discern if bullies are being passive-aggressive. Let them know bullying is wrong and that it is expected of them to report to their teacher.
Regularly check up on your child by asking questions about their experience at school; ask about classes or classmates they dislike and why. Find out if there are administrative measures that can be taken to stop the bullying and be persistent to ensure your child is in the safest environment possible while at school.
Check out our Bullying Guide for more guidance and resources.
The most important factor in this transition is open communication. Inform yourself and then your child. Be direct, as your child will understand this language the best.
The teen years can be difficult and exhausting, but seeing your child’s personality develop will be extremely rewarding.