How To Help Your Autistic Teenager With Tooth Brushing:
- Desensitize as needed
- Take it slow, unless youve been working on this skill for quite some time
- Let your teen handle as much as they can on their own
- Use a timer so they know how long to brush
- If needed, show a video of how to brush teeth
- If appropriate, try a mouthwash that shows plaque so your teen can target those areas
- Use rewards
What Might Be More Difficult For Teens On The Spectrum Right Now
We spoke with counsellor Celia Chambers to better understand specific challenges that may be coming up for teenagers on the spectrum who are not only trying to cope with change, but may be trying to continue on with school work.
Structure is often really important for a person on the spectrum, and losing the standard school week might feel overwhelming or confusing. Mixed in with suddenly having to manage their familys changing routine, this could easily become a trigger for overload or meltdown.
Celia adds that, for some, having a stretch of unstructured time could lead to intense boredom or anxiety. It is often in unstructured times that anxiety and fears are heightened as our brains have nothing better to do than go into survival/planning mode.
Also highlighting the importance of routine, Cathy agrees and recommends parents or caregivers establish a new routine where possible and keeping as much constant as possible. Although it may not seem important that a particular drink is drunk at a certain time, there is little enough stability to hold on to at the moment, so stick to what your child knows.
On top of this, Celia notes that with limited opportunities to leave the house, usually easy-to-manage sensations such as touches, sounds and sights might feel overwhelming. This can be particularly challenging when there is little that can be done to escape them.
Allowing teens to self-soothe and self-regulate here is key.
What Has The Impact Of The Covid
Social distancing has created many new challenges for families caring for teenagers with ASD in the home. Many teenagers with ASD receive support services including special education, behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, speech services, and individual aides through school. Delivering these services virtually is a major challenge, particularly since many teenagers with ASD already have social and communication difficulties, limiting the utility of video chat. Parents are therefore finding themselves simultaneously expected to play the role of parent, special education teacher, and individual aide, all the while providing care for other children and juggling work-from-home responsibilities. Aggressive and self-injurious behaviors may also increase during this time of fear and uncertainty.
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Dont Make Her Feel Broken
I wish my parents knew that when I was refusing to do something, it was often because I was overwhelmed and wasnt given the right kind of support, especially with chores. It was difficult to be around a bunch of people, and in asking if we could go to a different restaurant, or turn off certain noises, or not give Grandma a kiss and a hug all the time, I wasnt trying to be rude. These were sensory issues. My parents often told me I needed to learn to get over it, and if I didnt Id never be able to function in life, college, on the job, with a boyfriend, etc. I wish I could have grown up in an environment where I wasnt constantly treated like I was broken. I felt like I wasnt OK unless I learned to act like everyone else. Kate Levin
Grooming And Personal Hygiene
Some teens may need reminders to shower and shave. They may not understand the importance of grooming to social acceptance, or they may have less social motivation to smell and look clean. “They may be rejected because of poor personal hygiene but may not connect one to the other, or they may not have the skills to address the issue,” Dr. Keefer said.
Ms. Sicile-Kira recommends doing detective work to determine why your teen is shower-averse. Does he understand the importance and mechanics of good hygiene? Is the problem sensory? Suppose he hates the sensation of water pounding on his body from a shower head. If that’s the case, she said, “Give him a plastic cup to pour water on his head, so he has control over the flow of water.”
Even with good hygiene, adolescence can be a time of frustration or uncertainty for almost anyone. The social world with its cliques and pecking order becomes decidedly more complex during high school. Factor in dating, with its own set of unwritten rules, and students with ASD may feel adrift.
Problems with social and communication skills can leave them particularly vulnerable to bullying. IAN research shows that children with ASD are bullied at a much higher rate than their unaffected siblings, and that bullying spikes from fifth to eighth grades for them.13
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Parents Seek Help For Anxious Teen
My teen daughter has Aspergers and extreme social anxiety. It started to get worse at 13, resulting in refusing school. It has progressed to hardly leaving the house at all and no education as such for 2 years. She is 15 now, and no one seems to be able to help. I am at a loss too. How do I get her through this?
This weeks Got Questions? answer comes from Jeffrey Wood, PhD, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Three Autism Speaks research grants support Dr. Woods work on adapting cognitive behavioral treatments for children and teens with autism.
Editors note: The following information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as appropriate, with a qualified healthcare professional and/or behavioral therapist.
Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, anxiety including social anxiety is very common among children and teens on the autism spectrum. Many of these kids have a particular problem going to school. In fact, the problem is so common that we have a term for it: school phobia, or school refusal. Sometimes, school phobia involves the broader fear of leaving the house, also known as agoraphobia.
Sometimes these phobias stem from a specific fear such as a fear of having a panic attack in public. In other cases, it reflects more general social anxieties and fears around embarrassment or humiliation in public.
Help Her Find An Autistic Community
My wish for young autistic women is that their parents listen to them and facilitate friendships with whomever they want to hang out with. But I think it is so important that these girls are given opportunities to build relationships with other autistic girls. There is so much that autistic women and girls can give to each other. Navigating the complicated social rules of girls and women is so very difficult. Doing it with a friend or two who truly understands and likes you for who you are make it if not easier at least less painful. Autistic peers and older role models can do so much to help young girls with their self-esteem, self-awareness, and feelings of safety. Jean Winegardner
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Use Your Own Methods And Go At Your Own Pace
Ive known for a while that I work differently to others. And thats fine- I tend to succeed anyway if I try hard enough. Unless Im following other peoples methods, or going at someone elses pace.
For example: I played in a football match when I was eight , and I was in goal. This meant I was the only one in the team allowed to use my hands, and I was expected to use them.
Except, I didnt. I kept the ball away with my feet, time and time again, and learned I was pretty good at it. I ignored the people at the edge of the pitch telling me I had to use my hands becausethats what goalkeepers are supposed to do, and kept on defending with my feet.
0-0 with five minutes to go. I was doing my job perfectly. And then I was taken to one side by an adult, and ordered to use my hands, becausethats what goalkeepers are supposed to do.
I used my hands. Five minutes later, we lost 4-0.
If you need to do things differently to others, then do it. Where possible, surround yourself with people who understand why you need to do things differently.
If you need to go faster than other people, do it.
If you need to go slower than other people, do it.
And it is definitely not your fault if you try doing it someone elses way and it doesnt work. Because lets face it, they wouldnt succeed doing it your way.
Behaviour Signs Of Autism In Older Children And Teenagers
Repetitive behaviour and interests Older autistic children and teenagers might:
- have unusual interests or obsessions for example, they might collect sticks or memorise football statistics but not really be interested in the game
- have compulsive behaviour for example, they might line things up or need to close all the doors in the house
- have an unusual attachment to objects for example, they might carry toys around, or collect unusual items like chip packets or shoelaces
- be easily upset by change and like to follow routines for example, they might like to sit in the same seat for every meal or have a special order for getting ready in the morning
- repeat body movements or have unusual body movements, like hand-flapping or rocking
- make repetitive noises for example, grunts, throat-clearing or squealing.
Sensory sensitivitiesOlder autistic children and teenagers might:
- be sensitive to sensory experiences for example, they might be easily upset by certain sounds or uncomfortable clothes, or eat only foods with a certain texture
- seek sensory stimulation for example, they might like deep pressure, seek vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutter fingers to the sides of their eyes to watch the light flicker
- be less responsive to pain than other children.
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In All You Do Remember How Much Youre Loved
This is another bit of advice Id give to anyone going through hard times. If all else fails, remember the people who value you. Because their love for you is so, so, so important.
Anyone who really values you will offer you a shoulder to cry on when you need it. Find the people who are there for you, the people you know you can trust, and dont be afraid to rely on them.
Not everyone will say how much they care about you, of course. Some people only save those words for special occasions, or others are just too shy to say it. That doesnt mean that they dont care about you. Different people express their love differently, but mean it just as much.
By the way, if there are any readers here who honestly dont think theyre valued, not even by friends and family, dont lose heart. There are thousands and thousands of people out there who would care about you if they knew you. The secret may be finding new people. As tough as you might think that is, there will be good people out there. Maybe try a club that youre interested in , or even your local church if thats your kind of thing.
Other Issues Associated With Autism
Older autistic children and teenagers often have other issues as well. These might include:
- difficulty with sleep for example, they might have difficulty falling asleep, or might regularly wake up or have broken sleep patterns
- anxiety or feeling overwhelmed for example, they might feel anxious about going to new places, or being in social situations
- depression older autistic children and teenagers who are aware of their differences are also often aware of how others see them and can feel like outsiders. These feelings of low mood might be intensified by changing hormone levels during puberty
- aggressive behaviour they often have sensory sensitivities that can lead to sudden aggressive behaviour. They might have difficulty understanding whats going on around them, which can lead to frustration building up
- eating disorders for example, they might have difficulty moving to secondary school and might develop an eating disorder to cope with feelings of anxiety
- difficulty with organisational skills they might find the increase in complexity at secondary school hard to manage
- school refusal they might feel overwhelmed or confused at school. They might also be vulnerable to bullying at school
- gender dysphoria autistic children and teenagers can be more likely than other children and teenagers to identify as a gender thats different from the sex they were assigned at birth. If they feel distressed about this its called gender dysphoria.
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What’s It Like To Have Autism Spectrum Disorder
ASD affects different people in different ways. Some people can’t speak or learn. Their behavior may seem strange they may avoid other people they may pace and move their bodies in unusual ways, like flapping their hands. They may repeat lines from TV shows or movies.
People with less severe ASD are able to talk and learn. But they may have trouble:
- expressing feelings. They may seem cold and distant.
- understanding the feelings of others. They may ignore or misunderstand how other people might feel or behave in a situation.
- reading social cues. They might not understand body language or facial expression they stand too close they ignore signs of boredom or frustration.
- handling sensory information. Loud noises, bright lights, or crowds may bother them.
- handling a new routine. It might be hard for them to sit in a different seat or having a substitute teacher.
Some might get get super-focused on a single topic or hobby, some of which may be unusual .
Help Them To Stay Organised With School Work
As your teenager moves through high school, the demands and pressures placed on them will increase, which can be difficult to manage. New schools, busy timetables and a multitude of assignments can leave your autistic teen feeling anxious and overwhelmed. As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your support: help your teen to ensure that they have the right books, talk through their timetable with them each morning and communicate with their teachers so that everyone stays in the loop. If they have lots of homework, try breaking down the assignment into lots of smaller tasks and make yourself available should they need assistance.
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Social Isolation And Autism: How To Help Teens On The Spectrum Socialize
Social relationships can be difficult for any teenager to navigate, but creating and maintaining relationships has another layer of complexity for teens on the spectrum. Working with teens on socialization is essential as it can boost self-esteem, increase a sense of belonging, and provide practice for essential skills like managing emotions, responding to others feelings, and problem-solving.
How To Help Your Autistic Teenager With Personal Care:
- For teenage girls, prepare them for their period as soon as they start showing signs of puberty.
- For teenage girls, introduce social stories as needed about shaving, changing a sanitary pad, etc.
- For teenage boys, introduce videos or social stories about shaving
- For teenage boys and girls, explain to them what is going on with their bodies.
You can also use these tips for a quarantine.
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Support Programmes For Parents And Carers
EarlyBird , EarlyBird Plus , Healthy Minds and Teen Life are support programmes for parents and carers, offering advice and guidance on strategies and approaches to working with young autistic children. The programmes work on understanding autism, building confidence to encourage interaction and communication, and understanding and supporting behaviour.
How Do Teens With Autism Communicate
Teens on the spectrum can still be delayed in speech or language skills even when they have normal to above-average intelligence. Teens diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, also known as high functioning autism, typically dont have the delays in speech, motor, and physical skills. The delay is on social and communication skills which are made more obvious once the child has been exposed to social situations.
Because of their social and verbal limitations, autistic teens might:
- Not respond appropriately
- Only talk about a specific interest
- Not respond to jokes or sarcasm
- Talk using a formal, business-like tone
While these communication gaps might not be severe, it can hurt a teens social life.
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Ease Them Into Adolescence
Puberty, sexuality and teenage life are awkward for any adolescent, but for an autistic teen, these life events can be a particular challenge. For teenage boys and girls, understanding the changes that their bodies are going through can be a difficult concept. They may have learnt the key facts at school but have trouble translating them into their lives, or they may have very little awareness and not understand what is happening to them at all.
As a parent, reassure your teenager about these natural changes and be open about discussing important topics. Help your teenager to understand what to expect, how they will be affected and what they can do if they feel anxious or scared. The worst thing you can do is brush these topics under the carpet and hope that your teenager figures them out on their own.
Who Will Be Involved In The Assessment
It will depend on where you go to get an assessment done as to who, and how many professionals will be involved in doing to autism assessment.
If you go to a private professional, the assessment will generally be completed by one professional, such as a Speech Pathologist or Psychologist. In some states, you will be required to see two different types of professionals to complete an autism assessment, before a diagnosis of autism can be made. It is best to contact your local autism support service provider to find out what is required in your state or territory. However, if you go for an assessment by a government funded organisation, a range of professionals will generally be involved in any diagnostic assessment.
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