Parents all over the country dread the day when their children reach what is called Adolescence. It is a time of great changes, transitions, and it can be very stressful for parent & child alike. For those battling Autism, adolescence takes on a whole new metamorphosis. The physical & hormonal changes involved during adolescence happen to anyone, whether they have autism or not. What sometimes result from those changes & transitions, as well as issues that arise during this transition, can sometimes be more than a parent can handle.
For your “normal” adolescent, it is a very stressful & unfamiliar thing to go through transitioning into becoming older. There are new issues that arise, new emotions, and new social cues that come along with it. For example, with puberty & adolescence, comes the issue of sexuality. Appropriate versus inappropriate behavior is usually learned through observation, as well as open conversations with the parents. Adolescence with autism already struggle with understanding non-verbal social cues, so when they reach this point in puberty, it is even more intense for them. Now, it is even more important that parents help the adolescent understand proper behavior, as well as the physiological & psychological events that occur. They should also be instilling in their child solid values surrounding sexuality. According to Mary Joann Lang, PhD, author of an article in Autism Advocate, “Sexuality encompasses more than just the sexual act itself. Therefore, it is not enough for parents to discuss only the physiological and psychological changes their adolescent may be experiencing or will soon experience. Parents should spend time teaching their children about the values surrounding sexuality, as well, including issues of intimacy, the importance of developing a good body image and self-esteem, caring for others’ feelings and mutual respect. Further, parents need to help the child develop appropriate social interactions, so he or she can develop acceptable social skills. Becoming involved in extracurricular school or community activities and social groups can provide an outlet for the child to channel sexual energies into healthier, more socially acceptable behaviors. With persistent, open communication and ongoing efforts by parents and educators, the awkward adolescent on the autistic spectrum can grow into a more socially adept young adult with a healthy sexual identity.”
Parental guidance, support, and love are important for any child, whether they have autism or they don’t. For children & adolescents with autism, it is even more important that they trust & have confidence in their parents to being there. It isn’t easy to raise a child, and as the old saying goes, “there isn’t a manual for this”. Yet, when it comes to raising an autistic child, no matter how many books you read or how many doctors you talk to, no one can perfectly tell you how to raise your child. One of the biggest reasons behind this is because every child, autistic or not, is a unique individual.
You can read a book that talks about behaviors & traits of an autistic child; it can tell you how to handle those. Then you go to utilize what you just read, and you find it doesn’t work for your child. This is where some parents get frustrated, they start to doubt, and sometimes they even start to pull away from their child. A child going through the natural changes in their life, like adolescence, need their parents’ support & involvement more now than ever before. It is a scary, confusing, & stressful thing to go through; and for a child with autism, it can seem like their world is coming to an end (may seem drastic, but it’s true). Because of these feelings, parents may see increased “autistic behavior” & aggression as a way to express the overflow of emotions they are feeling.
Autistic children don’t have the natural ability to discern what it is they’re feeling, or how to handle it, so it comes out in different ways. This may be a point where the autistic child realizes they are different from their peers; which can then bring on sadness, depression, self-doubt, etc. On the other hand, some adolescence with autism end up taking these emotions & it helps to improve their social skills somehow. They come to learn new behaviors & social skills. These in turn can benefit an autistic adolescent in they build self-esteem, as well as make it possible for the adolescent to build relationships with their peers.
As mentioned before, there is a high risk for an autistic adolescent to become depressed when entering into puberty. There is also a risk of seizures; yet the type of seizures isn’t obvious by everyday observation. Often times seizures are noticeable and usually involve convulsions. The seizures associated with Autistic adolescence are considered “sub-clinical” seizures, and can usually be noticed by such things as exhibiting behavior problems, such as aggression, self-injury, and severe tantrums. Another sign is decline in grades & effort in school work, especially when the child has been doing so well up to this point. These seizures are usually brought on by hormonal changes in the body. And if gone untreated, can be a life-threatening. It is strongly recommended that parents get an EEG if they notice these types of symptoms.
It is important to keep in mind that there is a small likelihood of their child having seizures; it isn’t a normal part of the adolescent change for autistic children. Yet, it is always necessary to be aware of the positive & negative possibilities so that parents can be prepared & know what to do in the event something like this should occur. Many parents notice their child having developmental & social gains during this transition & time into adolescence. Their child becomes more self-aware, yet more self-confident. So, for parents with children reaching the point of adolescence, it should be looked at in a positive manner, with as much knowledge & awareness as possible. And always remember to be there for your child through every stage of their life-no matter if they have autism or not. But for those with autism, parental involvement & support/guidance is crucial to them making the transition as smooth as possible.