Updated: Nov 14, 2018
By Glyndora Condon MS MFT LPC
An article from Marina Sarris, of Interactive Autism Network at Kennedy Krieger Institute , dated July of 2013; shares interesting information that can help parents during this difficult journey of parenting a child with autism who is going through the frustrating and non-compliant stage of development of preteen and teen years. She states that a common complaint is that parents are afraid that the autism is getting worse during this time when in fact it is simply that the child is now experiencing the added complications that teens bring into the dynamic. For example; during the teen years then most teens are attempting to gain more independence and appear more defiant or non compliant when they are expected to do something. Any parent then could increase their independence while holding some semblance of control if they allow their teen some control over their schedule, or control as to what colors they wish to wear, or how they would like to wear their hair; which chore to do first; and if they need a little down time before they do homework or chores. Choices help teens to own their responsibilities.
One of the issues that face teens with autism is hygiene yet they want to be accepted and they would like to have friends although during this time-the chasm of differences seem to enlarge which makes this more difficult. Imagine if the teen had an odd or offensive odor to also work against the teen. Teens however may not connect this is a factor for their difficulty of creating friends unless this is advised. The use of pictures and structure is helpful with this population. But wonder if this teen also has sensitive sensory issues and dislike the pounding of the water onto their bodies or heads as they attempt to clean themselves? This can be tweaked by either choosing a bath or by providing a plastic cup for them to use instead as they stand in the shower area without the water directly hitting them. These children must have instructions that are precise, concise, and in small steps without slang or cues that they would not be able to pick up on. Often language is most confusing since the comprehension is often of a literal sense.
Another issue that may arise is a higher likelihood of epilepsy when the child enters puberty-yet this is not always the case. Further; children need ongoing supports during school to help with the executive functioning needs and social skills of the child and when young-they receive much support which helps them yet when they enter into middle and high school forums then-the support systems are often absent or much lower. This must be addressed and kept at a continuum for these children since they need these resources throughout their educational years.
The executive functioning of the brain (frontal lobe) is another issue. This is the last area of the brain that matures. It collects all knowledge, discerns, and orchestrates every function of the decision making process. Teens across the board have an influx of a massive amount of hormones and the brain goes into a construction and pruning phase which is most disruptive-contributing to mood, impulse, aggression, and sexual issues; and also to distorted thinking. This area of the brain can be enhanced to mature with questions that evoke thinking and conflict resolutions. To operate then several issues must be functioning:
1. The ability to initiate skill (self motivation and action from thought).
2. The ability to plan and organize skill (prioritizing order and steps with the understanding of the whole, the goal, or what is important)
3. Cognitive flexibility skill (to be able to change when things change one’s intent or expectation)
4. Inhibition skill: Warding off temptations and dangerous risks
5. Working memory: Keeping track of where one has been, what one has done, and what is next)
6. Social Cue skill: To know how to read faces and cues given during social interactions so as to act appropriately.
For all teens then these skills must be cultivated; but for the teens with autism, they will mostly struggle with items 2-5; with #3 as most challenging.
To help these children it is best to alternate skills and activities that are favored with activities and skills that are not so as to encourage perseverance and motivation. Parents can study the TEACCH model of education so as to get a good grasp on how to define, encourage, and teach tasks; and are advised to seek counselors and educational forums that are versed in this technique. Another caution is for the non verbal autism children who may could use sign language, or typing, or writing to converse-but if they are not able to communicate; then the parent must be aware of the NORM of their behavior-and be alert to any subtle changes of such in order to consider if their child may be in pain or have an issue that may not have been apparent which could be driving negative behaviors. Also please note that these children are often drawn to gaming and the internet but due to the highly addictive factors of too much screen use-and how this negative effects the brain’s development then these need to be limited to reasonable use in accordance with their age. A list of these limits can be found upon our website: www.healhopecounseling.com. We hope this has been helpful.