Self-Help Strategies: 25 Tips for Teens on the Autism Spectrum

“I'm dumb.” “Nobody likes me.” “I can’t find any friends.” “I can’t talk to girls.” “I’m such a nerd.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? Are you used to putting yourself down? If so, you're not alone. As an Aspergers (AS) or high functioning autistic (HFA) teen, you're going through a ton of changes. And as you change, so does your image of yourself. Lots of teens have trouble adjusting, and this can affect their self-esteem.

Here are some self-help strategies to help you rid yourself of negative, defeating self-talk:

1. A positive, optimistic attitude can help teens with AS and HFA develop strong self-esteem - for example, saying, "Hey, I'm human" …instead of, "Wow, I'm such a loser" …when you've made a mistake, or not blaming others when things don't go as expected.

2. As one Aspergers teenager said, "Parents just don’t understand" (understatement of the year, huh?). It may seem like there’s no way your mother or father will be able to help, especially if they are always nagging you or getting angry about your behavior. The truth is that parents hate to see their children suffering. Parents may feel frustrated, because they don’t understand what is going on with you or know how to help. Many moms and dads don’t know enough about the disorder to know how to deal with it. So, it may be up to you to educate them. You can refer them to a website, or look for further information at the library.

3. Family life can sometimes influence self-esteem. Some mothers and fathers spend more time criticizing their teens and the way they look than praising them, which can reduce the teen’s ability to develop good self-esteem. So, if your parents are overly critical, tell them that you need some encouragement from time to time. They may not realize they have been coming down hard on you.

4. For many teen on the autism specrrum, common strengths include high intelligence and a strong interest in at least one area of narrow focus. While this narrow focus can have its drawbacks, it can also be harnessed as an asset in many ways. For example, a lover of video games may become a computer programmer someday.

5. Identify which aspects of your appearance you can realistically change and which ones you can't. Everyone has things about themselves that they can't change and need to accept — like their height, for example, or their shoe size.

6. If there are things about yourself that you want to change, do this by making goals for yourself. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to exercise every day and eat nutritious foods. Then keep track of your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself is a great way to boost self-esteem!

7. If you learn to be kind to yourself and avoid judging yourself, you will find that what you practice and what you apply from self-help techniques can and will be very helpful.

8. If you’re depressed, you may not feel like seeing anybody or doing anything. Just getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult, but isolating yourself only makes depression worse. Make it a point to stay social – even if that’s the last thing you want to do. As you get out into the world, you may find yourself feeling better.

9. If your feelings are uncontrollable, tell yourself to wait 24 hours before you take any action. This can give you time to really think things through and give yourself some distance from the strong emotions that are plaguing you. During this 24-hour period, try to talk to someone—anyone. Talk to a parent or a friend. What do you have to lose?

10. It is important to realize that a lot of what "special needs" teenagers do differently, or the ways in which they may think differently, can be positively framed in realizing their capability to function in and through what is a different ability.

11. Knowing what makes you happy and how to meet your goals can help you feel capable, strong, and in control of your life. A positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle (such as exercising and eating right) are a great combination for building good self-esteem.

12. Making healthy lifestyle choices can do wonders for your mood. Things like diet and exercise have been shown to help anxiety and depression. Ever heard of a "runners high"? You actually get a rush of endorphins from exercising, which makes you feel instantly happier. Physical activity can be as effective as medications or therapy for depression, so get involved in sports, ride your bike, or take a dance class. Any activity helps! Even a short walk can be beneficial.

13. Many teens on the spectrum exhibit extensive knowledge of a specific interest and therefore are capable of major accomplishments.

14. One of the major aspects of self-help is learning more about self-acceptance and respecting differences, to the degree that you understand the ways in which you are different from the “neurotypical” teenager.

15. Regarding your body-image, recognize that your body is your own, no matter what shape, size, or color it comes in. If you're very worried about your weight or size, check with your doctor to verify that things are OK. But it's no one's business but your own what your body is like — ultimately, you have to be happy with yourself.

16. Some AS and HFA teens may become depressed, lose interest in activities or friends — and even hurt themselves or resort to alcohol or drug abuse. If you're feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent, coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or an adult friend. A trusted adult — someone who supports you and doesn't bring you down — can help you put your circumstances in perspective and give you positive feedback about your skills and abilities.

17. Spend time with friends, especially those who are active, upbeat, and make you feel good about yourself. Avoid hanging out with those who abuse drugs or alcohol, get you into trouble, or who make you feel insecure. It’s also a good idea to limit the time you spend playing video games or surfing online.

18. Stress and worry can take a big toll, even leading to depression. Talk to a teacher or school counselor if exams or classes seem overwhelming.

19. The AS or HFA teen is NOT disabled; rather, he is “differently abled.” The key is changing the way you think about difference and being the one that is different.

20. Understand that self-esteem is all about how much people value themselves, the pride they feel in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her behavior, and will enjoy life more.

21. What neurotypical people call “dysfunction” can be turned into your own understanding of many different ways that you actually DO function.

22. When you hear negative comments coming from within yourself, tell yourself to stop. Try building your self-esteem by giving yourself three compliments every day. While you're at it, every evening list three things in your day that really gave you pleasure. It can be anything from the way the sun felt on your face, the sound of your favorite band, or the way someone laughed at your jokes. By focusing on the good things you do and the positive aspects of your life, you can change how you feel about yourself.

23. You can create change in your life just like anyone else. Change for some teens on the spectrum means personal growth and evolution in understanding and learning. For others, it might be more about finding productive and workable compensatory strategies.

24. You may be tempted to drink or use drugs in an effort to escape from your feelings and get a "mood boost", even if just for a short time. However, substance use can not only make depression worse, but can cause you to become depressed in the first place. Alcohol and drug use can also increase suicidal feelings. In short, drinking and taking drugs will make you feel worse—not better—in the long run.

25. You might be surprised at how many other AS and HFA teens suffer from anxiety and/or depression. You are not alone, and your negative emotions are not a hopeless case. Even though it can feel like your unwanted emotions will never leave, they eventually will.

Here's what one parent had to say about her HFA teen: "In our family, we embrace the 'nerd' thing. Hang out with other nerds, watch TV shows with nerds. Being a nerd is OK. I have raised 5 kids, I would much rather have nerdy kids than 'cool' kids :)"

Resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

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