As a parent or carer of a child on the autism spectrum, these typical approaches to social life will be familiar to you:
Some with ASD will show no interest in socializing with others. When friends or family are around, they may ignore them, preferring to play or work by themselves. They may even appear irritated or frustrated when others interact with them. It's good to know, however, that interest in others usually increases over time.
Many with ASD do have an interest in others and have a desire to connect and interact with them. Unfortunately, this can prove such a difficult task to navigate that the anxiety it triggers causes them to avoid others. Rather than risk humiliation and rejection, these kids simply avoid others.
For those without anxiety, their desire to interact with others can lead to clumsy interactions. Although they want to fit in and have friends, they can't quite understand the intricacies of social interaction that are required. They may come across as boring, standoffish or even insulting. In turn, they'll be unable to read the reactions of others, such as sarcasm or criticism, which might otherwise give them clues to the behaviors of theirs that others find objectionable.
When kids with ASD get to teenage stage, they start to realize they are not quite like others. This can be a big surprise and quite a deep shock. Kids need to deal with and process this loss psychologically and may go through a stage of what is almost like grieving.
Similar to when someone is grieving, teens on the autism spectrum tend to go through a series of stages while trying to process their loss. These stages might happen in order or your teen might dip in and out of different stages at different times.
During this stage, the teen might fight her diagnosis, insisting they are just the same as everyone else. They won't want to talk about anything ASD related and just wish that it would all go away.
Your teen may become very angry, blaming themselves, you, God or anyone else that they are not neurotypical. Their frustration might cause destructive behavior.
Sometimes, teens on the autism spectrum might think that they will make themselves like the other teens around them by finding a medication or miracle cure. They believe that ASD might just disappear overnight if they could only find out how.
Adolescents are already known to suffer from depression, but those on the autism spectrum dealing with the realization of their differences are dealt an extra blow. They may feel down about themselves, their situation and their ability to make friends. They might give up on social activity, unable to face their differences.
Eventually, teens will be able to accept themselves, even though their strengths and challenges may be different from others'. Once they've reached this stage, they will then be much more successful in working towards gaining social skills.
7 ways you can help
Making sure that we do our best to deal with difficult issues calmly, without trying to minimize or avoid painful experiences or expressions, can work wonders for our teen's development.
If we try to jolly them along or suppress difficult feelings, we slow down ther path to acceptance and growth. Trying to understand and empathize and encourage honest talk will improve your relationship with your child in the long term and help him to accept himself as he is.
Try these tips for opening up communication and helping your teen:
Find a local support group for parents
It can be very difficult to go through parenting an ASD teen alone. Joining a group will not only give you a community that can help you through the difficult times, it may help you to improve your knowledge about what your child is going through and thus become better equipped to help them.
Though it can be tempting to change the subject and skirt round difficult issues, listening to our teen without judging, criticizing or offering our own opinion can be very powerful. When we respect our child's choice to confide in us by listening respectfully and not taking it personally, we are rewarded with more communication and a strengthened relationship. Our teen will feel more relaxed in the house as they will feel more understood and supported.
Remind them of reality
Teens have the tendency to exaggerate, due to the strength of the emotions that overwhelm them. Though we don't want to dismiss our child's feelings, we can remind them of reality if they make over-dramatic statements. For example, 'I always fail at everything,' might prompt, 'I know you feel things are difficult now, but there are lots of times you have succeeded, such as ....'
This will give your teen the confidence that you can offer them a sense of stability.
Some teens would prefer to speak to someone outside their family to express their feelings. This is perfectly normal. Offer to arrange counseling for them if they feel they want someone independent to talk to.
Use their special interest
Though, in all honesty, you are probably bored to tears by now by their collections or interests that have kept them going for years, you can use these interests to help them. Finding new ways to engage her in the subject, stretch her and challenge her
will give her a necessary confidence boost at this difficult time.
If your teen begins to spend more time working on their interest at this time, be aware that this might be their response to the difficult feelings that they are dealing with. Retreating into their collections helps them feel safe and may help them process their loss more effectively.
Talk about sex
Teens on the autism spectrum can find sexuality very difficult territory to navigate. Failure to help them in this area can meet with consequences such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, social exclusion or even imprisonment.
Setting out clear boundaries of what normal sexual behavior is will help your teen to steer clear of inappropriate sexual behaviors. Talking freely about sex and sexual feelings will let your teen know that these feelings are normal and acceptable - it is just the expression of them that they have to control. Encourage them to ask you questions regarding anything they are unsure about.
Some adolescents on the autism spectrum decide to educate themselves about the particular strengths and challenges ASD brings into their lives. They may even choose to educate others through the use of leaflets, websites or conversation. Taking a pro-active approach can be extremely helpful to combat depression in teens going through the realization of their differences.
Finding networks of ASD teens, making new friends on the spectrum or getting involved in other autism-related activities can help teens to become more aware of who they are and how they can empower themselves.