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Promoting Independence in Adolescence: Help for Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

"Now that my son with high functioning autism has become a teenager, are there things that I should be doing now to prepare him for adulthood?"

The teen years can be difficult whether or not your child has High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Asperger's (AS). In situations where he does, however, there are special challenges that differ depending on the child.

Some parents find themselves dealing with a teenager who is a loner, who has few friends, and focuses on one or more hobbies or preoccupations. This type of child is independent in some ways, but lacks the maturity to truly be independent in life. A teen like this needs to be pushed in the direction of finding friends and developing relationships.

He or she may also need to learn some of the specific things necessary for “life independence,” like how to deal with money, cleaning up after oneself, doing the laundry and other life skills that will be needed once the teen is ready to leave home. Interpersonal skills, including how to talk to service people, shop assistants, and other people he may meet along the way, should be taught and practiced as concretely as possible.

Other parents are dealing with the ongoing presence of rituals and obsessions that might interfere with the teen’s eventual independence. Psychotherapy might work in this kind of situation, but there are also medications designed to control ritual behavior. Getting this under control as a teenager will go a long way in enhancing the teen’s adult experience as she grows older.

Other things that you can teach your son to prepare him for adulthood include the following:
  • Accepting responsibility and consequences for actions (e.g., missing a deadline) and learning how to plan for emergencies
  • Balancing educational and recreational computer use
  • Completing homework, essays, and projects without reminders or involvement from mom or dad, professors, or tutors
  • Developing realistic expectations and plans about academic workload at college or technical school
  • Doing chores (e.g., laundry, cooking, and cleaning)
  • Good sleep habits
  • Handling increased social freedom and pressures (e.g., drugs and alcohol, dating and sex)
  • Healthy nutrition and exercise
  • Knowing schedules for classes
  • Money management (e.g., using ATM’s, credit and debit cards, checkbook, online banking)
  • Navigating public transportation and knowing how to get around new areas
  • Organizational skills needed to balance work and social life
  • Organizing study materials
  • Time-management skills
  • Running errands (e.g., grocery, gasoline)
  • Scheduling, canceling, and keeping doctor’s appointments

Adolescence is a time when depression can develop in teens, especially in those who know they don’t fit in and suffer from resultant poor self-esteem. Be aware of the signs of depression, and be proactive through the use of psychotherapy or medications to control some of these symptoms. This means, as a parent, you need to be aware of excessive isolation, “dark” language, outbursts of anger, or self-mutilation.

Help is available and can assist the teen resolve some of the conflicts unique to adolescence and having HFA or AS.

==> Videos for Parents of Children and Teens with ASD

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