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Guiding ASD Teens Through Adolescence To Adulthood

Parenting any ASD adolescent has its challenges. When he or she has Asperger’s (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA), the challenges are even greater. While most young people on the autism spectrum attend regular school, have friends, and participate in the same activities as their peers, they possess certain traits - and face certain obstacles - that “typical” adolescents don’t. For example:
  • Adolescents on the autism spectrum might imitate what they have learned in books or movies, and their voices might sound flat or boring.
  • Many AS and HFA adolescents prefer to be alone and may not show an interest in making friends. 
  • Some are quiet and withdrawn. 
  • They often don’t understand the importance of eye contact – and may avoid it altogether. 
  • They have trouble understanding jokes or sarcasm.
  • Some AS and HFA adolescents don’t understand socially acceptable ways to express frustration, and may become aggressive or throw tantrums.
  • Most of these young people are socially awkward since they have difficulty processing social cues, (e.g., body language, sarcasm, humor, figurative language, emotional responses, and facial expressions). These nuances of social interaction may fall unnoticed to the adolescent.
  • Sometimes they seem insensitive or look unemotional, but often they just don't know how to express how they're feeling. It doesn't mean they don't have feelings – it’s just more difficult for them to show those feelings or understand the feelings of others.
  • Many of these adolescents have trouble coping with change, and may not react well to changes in routine.
  • Most report that they feel "sensory overload" (e.g., they have heightened senses that can make noises seem louder and more startling, and lights may seem brighter). 
  • Regarding sexuality, special issues that may need to be addressed for these adolescents include: communicating about inappropriate behavior, dealing with menstrual cycles, distinguishing between appropriate and inappropriate touching, maintaining physical boundaries with others, physical changes, and refraining from self-touch.
  • The hallmark of AS and HFA is “social development” issues. These adolescents have trouble interacting with others. The part of the brain that recognizes and displays human emotion has developed differently, and a smile or a frown does not hold the same emotional significance as it does for a “typical” teenager.
  • AS and HFA traits can include fixation on objects and ideas, or making repetitive motions or using repetitive speech.

Adolescents with AS and HFA need time to gradually learn and practice adult life-skills (e.g., finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, arranging medical appointments, etc.). They may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their “typical” peers. Thus, it’s very important that parents help their “special needs” teenagers learn to be comfortable with their own situation and abilities.

Below are some suggestions for how parents can guide their AS and HFA teenagers through adolescence – and prepare them for adulthood:

1. AS and HFA adolescents can learn appropriate behaviors, and many of them work hard to learn emotional interpretation and response. Also, they DO feel emotions (e.g., empathy); however, it’s learning to express these emotions in a way others understand that is difficult. The earlier the symptoms of AS and HFA are addressed, the more likely it’s that the adolescent will have better success in his or her social interactions.

2. Adolescents on the autism spectrum need to know both the mechanics and morals connected with sex. Books and classes have suggestions about how to handle the topic.

3. Assign age-appropriate chores. Your “special needs” teenager can begin with simple tasks (e.g., setting the table, taking out the garbage, etc.). Later, she can take on larger tasks (e.g., preparing a simple meal once a week for the family).

4. Base your support and expectations on your teen's abilities, level of emotional security, and history – not on her chronological age or what her peers are doing.

5. Celebrate and enjoy each milestone your teen reaches on the road to self-sufficiency. But at the same time, understand that you are going to have frustrations, and that this phase is going to bring a whole new set of stressors.

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

6. Check with your adolescent's school about any transition services the district may provide.

7. Don’t rescue your teenager by paying off her debts or by making excuses to her teacher for a failing grade. Let her feel the consequences, and the lessons will be long lasting.

8. Emphasize that your teen’s main responsibility at this stage in life is to get an education. It’s difficult to become a successful, self-supporting grown-up in contemporary society without at least a high school diploma. If marks and test results start to decline, be sure to show concern and take measures to reverse the trend as quickly and as forcefully as possible.

9. Enroll your teenager in a life-skills class, and also teach these skills at home.

10. Explain how you will help your adolescent move into adult life. AS and HFA adolescents need to know how long they can live at home and whether or not their mom and dad will help them with their first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep them on the family health insurance, etc.

11. Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. As the parent, you are the best judge of when your adolescent is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.

12. Get your teen involved in peer-mentoring groups to learn life and job skills.

13. Group video instruction can help teens with AS and HFA learn important social skills. While the diagnosis rate for AS and HFA for 14- to 17-year-olds has more than doubled in the past five years, very few strategies have been found to help these teens develop the social skills they need to be successful. Studies have shown AS and HFA teens are more likely to pay attention when an innovative technology delivers the information. Video-based group instruction is important, given the often limited resources in schools that also face increasing numbers of students being diagnosed with AS and HFA.

14. Have your teenager meet with other AS and HFA adolescents with similar challenges. This can make her feel not so alone and ostracized.

15. Include your teenager in groups (e.g., support, therapy, social and sports groups).

16. Lead by example. Teens absorb attitudes, behaviors and habits from their parents. When they see the family wage-earners going to work daily, and both mom and dad cooperating to do cleaning, cooking and other household chores, they come to understand that everyone needs to contribute to the welfare of the family.

17. Make a list of the skills you believe your “special needs” teen will need in the outside world. Do this as you go through your day – working, shopping, paying bills, cooking and performing other normal tasks. Writing the list yourself will make you aware of behaviors that you can model and share with your adolescent. Show the list to his teachers, doctor, therapist and any other caregiver who helps him. Ask these people to review and add to the tasks, using their knowledge of your teen’s abilities and problems. Also, turn the everyday activities from your list into “teaching moments” (e.g., at the grocery store, you can ask your teen to find the least expensive canned peaches; wait at a bus stop and demonstrate how to pay the fare, find a seat and get off at the right stop; show your teen simple cooking and cleaning methods, etc.).

18. One of the greatest gifts you can give your AS or HFA adolescent is the ability to handle his emotions. Teaching him how to identify, reflect on, and deal with his feelings by the time he leaves home is one of the best ways to prepare him for adulthood. In fact, this emotional strength and ability will take your child much farther in life than intellectual ability or a specific ability (e.g., athletic or artistic ability).

19. Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young adult moves out of your home. Moms and dads who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, etc., help their adult children not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from parents.

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

20. Remember that under Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), by the time a special education student reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Moms and dads need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school's "transition coordinator" about your teen's transition plan.

21. See that your adolescent gets enough experience in normal social etiquette (e.g., talking to a store clerk, relating to friends at a party, asking for information, etc.).

22. Seek out social-skills classes sponsored by local schools, community centers, colleges or charitable foundations.

23. Teach and re-teach your adolescent adult life-skills (e.g., balancing a checkbook, paying off a credit card balance, cooking, laundry, car maintenance, making doctor appointments, etc.). Provide abundant opportunities for supervised practice.

24. The most important thing moms and dads can do is to “let go” of their “special needs” teen and let him experience success -- and failure -- on his own. No matter how complex the special need is, that teenager will be striving for a state of independence. He wants that, just like all teens want independence. As true as this may be, it can be challenging emotionally for moms and dads to transition from a protective, advocatory role and to permit new degrees of autonomy.

25. The next time you talk to your AS or HFA adolescent about a problem she is facing, help her to reason on how her choices reflect on her. Help her to see how her choices either enhance her reputation or tarnish it, which in turn will help or hurt her future prospects.

26. Very few young adults on the autism spectrum are ready for full "independent" living. They all need ongoing support and encouragement from parents as they learn to negotiate the adult world. “Launching” AS and HFA individuals from the “nest” brings some unique challenges. Initially, "interdependence" rather than "independence" is a more fitting goal for these young people as they begin to venture into the world.

27. When a problematic issue arises, try reversing roles. Ask your adolescent what advice she would give you if you were her child. Have her do research to come up with reasons to support – or challenge – her thinking. Discuss the matter again within a week.

28. When your adolescent shows that she is handling her social life, schoolwork, and part-time employment well, you can start to gradually loosen the apron strings and trust her with more responsibility. This may be the time to go on a short vacation and leave your adolescent home alone to look after herself and the house. Soon she'll be off to college or university (hopefully), and she needs to practice being on her own.

29. Write down one or two areas in which you could extend a little more freedom to your “special needs” teenager. Explain to her that you are extending this freedom on a trial basis. If she handles it responsibly, in time she can be granted more. If she does not do so, the freedoms she has been granted will be curtailed.

30. Your AS or HFA teen needs to be socialized. Give her plenty of opportunities to mix amicably with other people of all age groups. She should visit restaurants, movies, and malls and learn to behave appropriately in all circumstances. Grown-ups don’t live in isolation. They need to interact graciously with different types of people in a variety of milieus. As your teenager matures, she should improve her social skills so she can converse pleasantly with anyone in diverse situations.

As mentioned earlier, young people on the autism spectrum need extra time to learn and practice adult life-skills, because their “emotional age” is much younger than their “chronological age” …in other words, you may have a teenager who is 17-years-old chronologically, but emotionally more like 14-year-old. So, the earlier you begin helping out in this area – the better!

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

How to Prepare Your Autistic Teenager for Adulthood

"How can I prepare my son with HFA for adulthood? He seems so immature for his age and we worry about how he's going to cope with life being out of the 'nest'."

Very few young adults with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are ready for “full independent” living. They need ongoing support, social skills training, and encouragement from parents as they learn to negotiate the “adult world.”

Adolescents with HFA need extra time to gradually learn and practice adult life skills (e.g., finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, arranging medical appointments, etc.). Many of these individuals may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their neurotypical peers.

They may choose to live at home and attend a local community college rather than go to a university where they would need to live on campus. Many have even experienced sudden drops in their grades as graduation approached, due to fears about having to leave home before they feel ready. Some may need to experiment with alternatives and adjustments for skills (e.g., driving a car) that are not within their reach.
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with High-Functioning Autism

With some special challenges in mind, here are a few parenting tips for promoting self-reliance in your older teens with HFA:

1. Base your support and expectations on your teenager's abilities, level of emotional security, and history—and not on his chronological age or what his peers are doing.

2. By the time your adolescent is working and making an income, he should assume responsibility for all cell phone charges. This cuts down on extravagant cell phone use, because most adolescents are more prudent about usage when they have to pay the bill.

3. By the time kids on the spectrum are in the 8th grade, they should be taking responsibility for their own schoolwork. Moms and dads should not hound their child to complete work. Obviously, instilling a good work ethic regarding schoolwork starts much earlier than middle school. But by the 8th grade, young people should “own” the quality and timeliness of their work so they understand cause and effect before they enter high school, where a poor grade can affect college prospects.

4. Check with your adolescent's school about any transition services the district may provide.

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

5. Consider finding a job coach for your teen. The benefits of having a job coach include the following:
  • A job coach can identify specific strategies and techniques that can help your teen learn new tasks or adapt to new schedules.
  • A job coach can serve as a “liaison” between the employer and the employee.   This can help ensure that the employer’s needs are met while advocating for the employee by addressing any concerns of the employee in a manner that is pro-active.
  • Assessing the need for “on the job” accommodations is a fundamental responsibility of a job coach.  In most instances, the job coach can provide information on the procurement of the accommodation as well.
  • Coping skills can be developed or enhanced with the assistance of a job coach.  The job coach’s knowledge of your teen’s strengths and preferences can prove invaluable in determining how specific skills (e.g., relaxation techniques, journaling, role-playing of solutions and responses geared toward specific situations and scenarios, etc.) can be enhanced.

6. Do not rescue your teenager by paying off her debts or by making excuses to her teacher for a failing grade. Let her feel the consequences, and the lesson will be long lasting.

7. Explain in great detail how you will help your adolescent move into adult life. He needs to know how long he can live at home and whether or not you will help him with his first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep him on the family health insurance, and so on.

8. Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. Your family is the best judge of when your adolescent is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.
9. Let your teen make mistakes. Moms and dads naturally want to rescue their special needs children. Avoid doing that unless it’s a matter of your adolescent’s health or safety. Otherwise, simply say, “Okay, you made a mistake. It happens to everyone. What can you do to fix it?”

10. Let your teenager make decisions. At this age, she should have some say in nearly everything that affects her. Trust her in this way. She will be more likely to bend your way when you make clear that an issue is very important to you.

11. Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young HFA adult moves out of your home. Moms and dads who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, etc., help these youth not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from the family.

12. Purchasing a car can be the single most rewarding effort an adolescent makes other than good grades and a decent job. The sense of accomplishment an adolescent feels when she saves money for a vehicle is only trumped by the first purchase of a house. Moms and dads should not deprive their teenager of this milestone by buying a car for her. Saving for a car (preferably the entire time she has her permit) will teach her the value of setting a goal and achieving it by herself and give her a shot of confidence. These young people should also pay for their own insurance – either their own policy or as a rider on their parents' policy.

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

13. Remember that teens with HFA take longer to mature than their neurotypical peers. During those 16-18 years, moms and dads are responsible for teaching their teens how to survive in the adult world. Developing good money habits and taking responsibility for their own financial well-being is best achieved by these adolescents before they truly have to manage on their own so that their transition to adulthood has fewer speed bumps and considerably less heartache.

14. Skip the power struggles. Instead of trying to control your special needs adolescent (e.g., “Get upstairs and do that homework now”), place the control on yourself (e.g., “I’ll be happy to drive you to the mall after you do your homework”).

15. Teach your teenager how to balance a checkbook and budget her money. It's important that she learns by trial and error before she turns 18 and starts making choices as a grown-up. In an era of easy credit and payment plans, the temptation to spend more than they earn hits younger target markets every year, and it is never too early to teach adolescents how to resist those offers. Your adolescent should open a checking account as soon as she starts working (even if she is only babysitting) and should be saving 10% of her earnings. Also, you might want to assist your teen with choosing a checking account.

16. Teens with HFA should begin to think about viable employment by at least the 10th grade. Experience working with others and handling workplace conflicts is critical to developing the work ethic and job skills they need when they enter the adult workplace. Many part-time jobs can be secured by working as an unpaid intern first. Summer camp programs, park and recreation departments, landscaping companies, and recreation businesses will often use free labor, and volunteering opens the door to an eventual paid position. By the time these teens are 15, they should be working part-time in preparation for life beyond school, when they will have to juggle work and family responsibilities. Colleges like to see regular student employment on their applications because it shows dedication, responsibility, and maturity!

17. The next time you talk to your adolescent about an issue, help her to reason on how her choices reflect on her. For example, instead of criticizing her friends, say: “What if your friend got arrested for breaking the law? How would that make you look?” Help your adolescent to see how her choices either enhance her reputation or tarnish it.

18. Under Federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), by the time a “special education” child reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Moms and dads need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school's "transition coordinator" about your teenager's transition plan.
19. When an issue arises, try reversing roles. Ask your adolescent what advice she would give you if you were her teenager. Have her do research to come up with reasons to support—or challenge—her thinking. Discuss the matter again within a week.

20. Write down one or two areas in which you could extend a little more freedom to your  adolescent. Explain to her that you are extending this freedom on a trial basis. If she handles it responsibly, in time she can be granted more. If she does not do so, the freedoms she has been granted will be curtailed.

Launching young men and women with special needs from the family home brings some unique challenges. "Interdependence" rather than "independence" is a more fitting goal for these youth as they venture into the adult world.

==> Click here for more information on how to help your young adult on the autism spectrum to cope with life...

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

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

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

Helping Asperger's and High-Functioning Autistic Teens To Cope With Life

 "I need some tips on how to deal with my HFA teenager. We're dealing with so many issues at the moment - depression, social isolation, backtalk, failing grades, and the list could go on and on here..."

Parenting adolescents brings many challenges – hormonal changes, self-identity, and the pressure of being socially acceptable, just to name a few. When you add Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism (HFA) to the equation, the element of difficulty increases significantly.

Parents can help their “special needs” adolescents, but this begins with becoming knowledgeable about what they face. Parents should learn as much about the disorder as possible and how they can support and help these young people face their challenges.

The “typical” teenager is really into his or her friends. The tools for developing social skills as an adolescent are shared experiences and conversation with peers. But, for the teenager who has poor social skills or struggles to communicate, the idea of conversation and interaction with peers is not appealing. For many teens with Asperger’s and HFA, they literally can’t think of anything they would enjoy less than “having” to be social. And who blames them? Nobody enjoys doing things they are not naturally good at.

Teens with Asperger’s and HFA are easily misunderstood. For example, one teenager might be unfiltered, blurting out the first thought that pops into his head, while another may struggle to form and express complete sentences. Both scenarios create tension for the teen with Asperger’s or HFA – as well as his peers, who may be attempting to interact. Typically developing teens sometimes react harshly in these awkward moments.

In general, adolescents don’t exactly have the market cornered on emotional maturity. They’re still developing. So, odds are high that a young person on the autism spectrum has already had a number of uncomfortable peer-encounters by the time he reaches adolescence (e.g., teasing, bullying, peer-rejection, etc.). You can see why the critically important skill (i.e., the ability to engage in age-appropriate social interaction) needed in adolescence may be the one thing that a teen with Asperger’s or HFA associates with failure.

Parenting Out-of-Control Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism 

 ==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and HFA Teens

15 crucial strategies that parents and teachers can employ in an effort to assist teens with Asperger's and HFA:

1. Adolescents with Asperger’s and HFA are challenged with self-esteem issues. Thus, it is important to help them feel important in matters that involve them. Get them to participate by giving them the choices available, as well as understanding of the consequences behind those choices.

2. Alternate preferred activities (e.g., computer games, TV viewing) and less-preferred activities (e.g., homework, chores). Teens on the spectrum are likely to put more intense – and more sustained – effort into challenging/non-preferred tasks when they know that they can take part in a fun or interesting activity at the end of it.

3. As the mother or father facing the often overwhelming task of parenting and disciplining an adolescent with Asperger’s or HFA, it may seem that you don’t have the time or patience for allowing her to have input into decisions that concern her. And it may even seem downright scary to consider allowing her to make her own decisions. Doing so would take more time and would definitely involve some risk. But, it becomes a significant issue when adolescents feel they are disregarded in matters that directly affect them. Adolescents with Asperger’s and HFA are no different in this regard. It’s a big deal when they are made to feel important despite their disorder. An important proactive step is letting the “special needs” adolescent know that, although her needs may be a challenge, there is nothing that can’t be overcome or managed more effectively.

4. Challenged by a particular developmental disorder or not, teens want to know they are loved, supported and have encouragement when needed. This is even more important for young people on the autism spectrum. When the disorder is allowed to overshadow the significance of a teenager, it hinders him or her greatly.

5. Check to be sure that you have your teen’s attention before giving directions. However, understand that young people on the spectrum may not always make eye contact, even when they are paying attention to you. Be on the lookout for other signs of attending (e.g., alert posture, orientation toward you, stopping other activities, verbalizations, etc.). Also, include essential information in your directions that will answer these four questions for your teen: When do I do the work? What is my payoff for doing the work? What exactly am I supposed to do? How much work is there to do in this task?

6. Create a plan to help your teen to generalize his learned social skills across settings and situations. Teens on the autism spectrum are likely to need explicit programming to generalize skills that they have learned in a particular setting to other settings or situations. Teach only a small number of “key” skills (e.g., how to start a conversation, how to ask for help) at one time so that you will have enough time to work with your child on generalizing each mastered skill. After he has mastered a skill in one setting, list other settings or situations in which you would like him to show the skill. Then create a training plan to help your teen to use the skill in these novel settings. If he has mastered the task of delivering appropriate social greetings at school, for example, you might take him to a church youth group, prompt him to greet his peers, and provide praise or rewards for his successful performance. This is an example of “hands-on” social skills training, which is greatly needed with these young people. Parents and teachers should “go the extra mile” like this.


7. Create structured opportunities for your teen to participate in social interactions (e.g., allow him to invite a friend or two over for a movie or pizza party). Asperger’s and HFA teens are often excluded from social interactions with their typical peers at school, so parents can make up for this by providing social opportunities at home.

8. Help build your “special needs” teen’s self-esteem. List-making can be an effective method for accomplishing this goal. To begin, your adolescent can make a list of at least 5 things he admires or appreciates about himself. This list can include simple things (e.g., has a nice smile), or more significant things (e.g., earning good grades in school). Each day thereafter, he continues to make a new list. These lists can include his 5 greatest strengths, 5 greatest life achievements, 5 people who love and care about him, and his 5 favorite memories. Your adolescent can keep these lists in a special place and refer to them any time negative thoughts enter his mind.

9. Helping your Asperger’s of HFA adolescent will be challenging at times, because with mood swings, meltdowns and hyperactivity, it seems you have no control – but neither does she! However, take a moment to realize that you can help her by controlling yourself. You really do your teen a great service by maintaining control, and by not allowing difficult situations to overwhelm you. Stress is contagious, so don’t spread it to your teenager.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and HFA Teens

10. Minimizing the disorder is NOT the point. Helping your adolescent to understand that he can accomplish things in spite of his disorder IS the point. Not only does this encourage self-esteem, it also provides motivation and hope.

11. Offer meaningful choices that give your teen some autonomy and control. For example, you may encourage her to select a few chores, and then allow her to decide what chore she will work on first. Also, you could allow her to choose when and where she will do her homework. Make an effort to build choices into home activities whenever possible.

12. Post a clear and predictable daily schedule. Children and teens with Asperger’s and HFA crave structure and predictability. But know that young people on the spectrum can sometimes react more strongly than their “typical” peers when faced with any unexpected change in their daily schedule. Thus, be as consistent as possible with the schedule.

13. Provide your teenager with simple strategies to engage others in social interactions. Demonstrate and model these strategies. Then give her an opportunity to try them out, and give her feedback and encouragement (e.g., role play how to approach a group and ask to join a game or other activity).

14. Use verbal prompts (i.e., pre-correction) before your teen engages in a task to promote success. Phrase your prompt to reflect what you would like to see your teen do (e.g., “Michael, please do your homework before dinner”), rather than what you would like him to stop doing (“Michael, you need to stop playing video games and get busy with your homework, because we are going to eat dinner soon”).

15. When a problem arises and you must confront your teen, keep your tone of voice calm and relaxed in spite of how you may be feeling. This “gentle” approach can diffuse a lot of situations that may otherwise be lost to conflict and anger. While every situation may not be diffused, disciplining in a gentle fashion is something that should be practice diligently with children and teens who are prone to meltdowns and feelings of frustration or anxiety.

Your adolescent with Asperger's or HFA will want friends, but may feel shy or intimidated when approaching his peers. He probably feels "different" from others. Although most “typical” adolescents place emphasis on being and looking "cool," young people on the autism spectrum may find it frustrating and emotionally draining to try to “fit in.” They may be immature for their age, and they may be naive and too trusting, which can lead to teasing and bullying.

All of these difficulties can cause these adolescents to become withdrawn and socially isolated – and to have depression or anxiety. However, with a little assistance from parents and other caring adults, even an Asperger’s or HFA teen can thrive and live a productive, happy life.

More 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

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Isolation and Loneliness in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

"What can we do as parents to get our teenager with high functioning autism to broaden his areas of interest and not hibernate in his room playing video games ALL DAY. He has very little contact with us and has virtually no friends?!"

Having little contact with family and peers is not uncommon among teenagers with Asperger’s (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA), but if your adolescent's isolation is becoming an issue and advancing into a troubling stage, you will want to quickly solve the problem in any way you can.

The adolescent years come with a host of issues for teens on the autism spectrum – much more so than for “typical” teens. Moms and dads often feel at a loss for how to help their “special needs” adolescent when he or she seems lonely, anxious, depressed or out of sorts.

Adolescents with AS and HFA may choose to isolate themselves, or it may happen as a result of bullying or exclusion by their peers. Other common reasons for isolation include the following:
  • Isolation can be caused by the way these teens look, dress, act, or a combination thereof.
  • Moodiness and erratic or volatile behavior can drive AS and HFA adolescents away from their peer group.
  • Shyness can be a cause of social isolation.
  • Some AS and HFA adolescents may be ostracized by peers due to their excelling academically or underachieving. “Fitting-in” is important to teens, and those that stand out may be pushed to the fringes of social groups.
  • The AS or HFA adolescent may spend too much time on the internet or playing video games, and as a result, lose touch with their friends. They may replace genuine social interaction with online gaming where they converse with strangers.
  • Depression is another prime cause of isolation for these young people. A depressed AS or HFA adolescent loses interest in everyday activities and drops out of social groups at school.

Of the reasons listed above, I have found that the biggest reason AS and HFA teens isolate is because they have been bullied, teased and rejected by their peers. Due to their “odd” behavior, these young people are misunderstood and not heard by their peers. They are trying hard to be accepted, but they simply don’t know how to do it. When trying to cope with this rejection, their brain actually goes into survival mode, and they will either become hypo-aroused or hyper-aroused, which means that they will either hide (hypo) or act-out (hyper). These behaviors then can scare peers and parents. This is why it is so terribly important to look beneath the behavior and empathize with the adolescent's emotional state – and then listen to what he or she is saying.

Adolescents with AS and HFA may end up in a situation where they struggle to help themselves. If moms and dads see this happening, they should get involved and encourage their youngster to take positive action to overcome their social problems. Luckily, there are a few ways to encourage your adolescent to become a part of things once again.

==>  Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

What moms and dads can do to help their AS and HFA teens to improve self-esteem, be more socially engaged, and experience less loneliness and depression:

1. Assist your adolescent with setting short-term and long-term goals for herself. Short-term goals (e.g., completing homework each day for a week, filling out two job applications per week, etc.) will help keep her focused. Long-term goals (e.g., getting a driver's license, saving up enough money to purchase a car, etc.) will give her something to look forward to. Reaching goals provides a sense of accomplishment and improves self-esteem.

2. Consider the treatment options for your adolescent's depression or anxiety if those have been diagnosed. Getting proper treatment for these conditions will help your adolescent to stop isolating himself so much from family and peers. Possible treatments may include counseling and/or medications.

3. Create opportunities for your adolescent to volunteer and help others. Providing assistance to others helps improve feelings of self-worth. There are many volunteer opportunities available for adolescents (e.g., visiting people in a nursing home, caring for animals at a local shelter, etc.).

4. Discuss your concerns with your child when she seems more relaxed. Be honest, telling her that you have noticed that she is spending more and more time on her own. Ask her if there is something troubling her. Be tactful and patient. Do not pressure her to talk, but encourage her by speaking softly and gently and by showing relaxed body language.

5. Encourage social activity by signing your teenager up for community sports, arts and crafts classes, or any other activities that he may enjoy that will help him to meet new friends and explore hobbies and other special interests.

6. Encourage your teenager to get some kind of exercise at least 3 to 4 times a week. Staying active can help improve mood.

7. Even if it doesn't always seem like it, your “special needs” adolescent craves your attention and approval. Spend time together doing an activity that you both enjoy, or let your adolescent choose how you spend your time together. Whether it's shopping, watching movies, or going for a hike, the most important thing is to be there and to get your adolescent out of her bedroom for a while.

8. Explore all aspects of your teen’s attempts to isolate himself by keeping a journal. A journal will contain valuable information for a therapist if your child receives counseling at some point in the future. The length of time “isolating behavior” has been going on is relevant. Also, look at your child’s personality. He may always have been a loner, or he may have previously been quite outgoing. Also, note any signs of a lowering or flattening in mood.

9. Get your support team together. There are school counselors and peer-support groups. There is also individual and family psychotherapy that is provided through local mental health agencies. You may also want to have your doctor check out the possibility of any medical conditions as a possibility for isolation or depression. If your teen is physically healthy, the next step will be to bring him or her to a mental health professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorders. The therapist will give your adolescent a screening for depression and guide you through treatment options. In addition, you can contact your local clergy for support. But always keep in mind that the most important relationship is the one between you and your teenager. The professionals can assist and guide, but you can influence your son or daughter in a positive way that will have a life-long impact on that parent-child relationship.

==>  Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens

10. Help your adolescent to find her talents. Encourage her to join a sport, play a musical instrument, or join a club until she finds something where she excels. Also, teach her that she does not have to be good at everything, but what she settles on should be enjoyable.

11. Help your teenager to stick to his usual sleep schedule and eat regular and healthy meals and snacks.

12. Increase your adolescent's self-esteem. Sadness and isolation can sometimes be linked to low self-esteem. Give your youngster lots of compliments and positive reinforcement for the things she does well, whether that's a good grade on a test, helping out with a younger sibling without being asked, or a beautiful drawing she created. Look for the good things about your adolescent and the positive things she does, and make a big deal about them! An adolescent who feels good about herself is more likely to want to get out of the house and enjoy life.

13. Intervene if you feel your child’s behavior is troubling. He may, for example, be spending increasing periods of time in his room with the door shut and locked. He may even be neglecting his diet, appearance or studies. The best way to intervene may be to sign your child up for a social-skills training group.

14. Model healthy self-esteem. Show your adolescent the importance of self-praise, and avoid becoming self-critical in his or her presence.

15. Open the line of communication. Without being overly pushy, let your teen know you are there if he needs to talk – no matter what the problem is. This may help you to find out if there are any reasons for his isolation (e.g., school-related stress).

16. Praise your adolescent for her efforts – even if she doesn’t reach her goals (e.g., acknowledgment of hard work in her sports attempts or academic efforts). Praise positive behaviors (e.g., making healthy choices, solving tough problems). Also, teach your adolescent how to respond to failure with a healthy attitude.

17. Stay in touch with their child’s teachers and coaches. Being aware of what she is doing and who she is friends with is very important. It also lets her know that she is important to you. Sure, she may complain about you being over-protective, but so what – you are the parent.

18. Suggest that your teenager keep a journal. Writing about her feelings, drawing, and writing poetry are some of the ways she can express herself. Sometimes she may be asked to do this by her therapist as well, and maybe share some of the entries. Often being able to identify and express feelings will improve how your teenager feels.

19. Teach your adolescent to recognize cognitive distortions and replace them with more realistic thoughts. AS and HFA teens with low self-esteem tend to have a distorted view of themselves and the world. Frequently, they expect things to turn out negatively (e.g., "Everyone is going to laugh at me when I give my presentation tomorrow in class”). Other distortions may include self-blame and becoming overly-critical of anything less than perfection.

20. While some moodiness and isolation is normal, it's important to be aware of signs of more serious problems (e.g., depression, suicidal thoughts). Symptoms of depression include frequent sulking, a change in eating or sleeping habits, lack of energy, and talking about death or suicide. If your adolescent shows any of these symptoms, seek help immediately. Call a therapist or your physician right away for instructions on what to do next if you suspect a serious problem.

Isolation increases an AS or HFA teen's risk of developing mental health problems (e.g., depression, chemical dependency). Thus, parents of these teens need to help them improve their self-esteem and social skills by encouraging them to change the way they think – and how they spend their time. This can be accomplished by using the steps listed above.

==>  Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens


Steve Borgman said... What a great article. I liked the suggestion of getting one's teen in a volunteer activity, particularly in an activity s/he enjoys, such as something related to animals, if s/he loves animals. Also, I appreciate the suggestion of connecting with one's child when s/he is more relaxed.

D Marcotte said... Nice article. I would like to add a couple of suggestions. 1. If your teen is interacting with others online that should count as social interaction - i.e. chat rooms, websites or whatever. My daughter who is high functioning does very well online and has friends all around the world. 2. Introduce your teen to other teens on the spectrum - we have found this to be very helpful. They seem to really understand each other in a way NT people just don't. Their friendship may not look like what you expect, but that doesn't make it any less real. I would also like to mention a great website for families impacted by autism, is designed to help families find the treatments, therapists and services they need in the local area. It also has a lot of links to online support through links to organizations, forums and other references.

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Depressed Aspergers/HFA Teens and Drug/Alcohol Abuse

Parents often assume that their teenager with Asperger's (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) tries alcohol and/or drugs to rebel or to "fit in" with his peer group. However, teens with undiagnosed depression often use drugs and alcohol as a way to relieve their frustrations. A depressed teen on the autism spectrum may self-medicate with alcohol to escape the terrible sense of hopelessness. Unfortunately, alcohol only exacerbates the problem.

Some drugs may even make him feel "normal," when for weeks he has felt miserable. The impact of such drugs on serotonin, dopamine and endorphins (i.e., chemicals in the brain that regulate mood) can be devastating for these teenagers. The damage they do to receptors in the brain can make the road back from depression even harder.

Often parents approach the issue of drug and alcohol use as simply a discipline issue for a teen who is "bad." However, your "special needs" teen may be sick. He may be unable to express to you exactly how he feels. If your adolescent is self-medicating to treat depression, anxiety, or other emotional or behavioral disorders, simply applying more discipline and creating more rules will not impact the underlying problem that led to substance abuse in the first place.

While some teens on the spectrum self-medicate to treat depression, others end up with a serious mental disorder due to abuse of drugs or alcohol. Abusive drinking or drug use can seriously undermine your teen's physical, emotional, and psychological health. Some drugs, such as methamphetamines, can seriously affect the neurotransmitters, which are known as the "messengers of the brain." Recent studies suggest this damage can be long-lasting and even permanent.

Many AS and HFA teens have the mistaken notion that club drugs are benign. In fact, while they might feel "good" while taking them, they can make it difficult for the teenager to feel good naturally for a long time to come. The longer teens use these drugs, the more difficult treatment and the higher rate of relapse due to their inability to "feel good" or even "normal" because of the damage to their neurotransmitters.

Is your teen depressed? Answer these questions to find out:

1. Does your teen have little interest in his future?

2. Does your teen drink alcohol?

3. Does your teen smoke cigarettes?

4. Does your teen use drugs?

5. Has your teen quit activities he used to enjoy?

6. Does your teen seem to cry easily?

7. Does your teen seem like he is filled with guilt and remorse?

8. Has your teen been denying food saying he is not hungry?

9. Has your teen been easily agitated?

10. Has your teen been having a difficult time making decisions?

11. Has your teen seemed to have lost his energy?

12. Has your teen withdrawn from you or other family members?

13. Has your teen had recurrent thoughts of death or suicide?

14. Has your teen been falling asleep in class?

15. Has your teen felt hopeless?

16. Has your teen had problems sleeping at night?

17. Has your teen not been focused on what is going on in front of him, and is he often lost in his own thoughts?

18. Has your teen had a dramatic change in personality such as extreme irritability or sadness?

19. Has your teen had a hard time focusing on homework or reading?

20. Has your teen had an overwhelming feeling of sadness for no known reason?

21. Has your teen often feel fatigued, even when he has gotten enough rest?

22. Has your teen spent too much time in his room alone?

23. Has your teen withdrawn from his friends?

24. Has your teenager been over-eating?

25. Have you heard your teen put himself down, making derogatory comments and being overly critical?

If you answered yes to 5 or more of these, then your teen is likely suffering with depression.

AS and HFA teenagers have a difficult time relating their true feelings to others. The world is quite different today, and these young people face so many obstacles. If your teenager becomes withdrawn and disinterested, it is critical that you intervene in an attempt to see what the trouble may be. Many times a teen will open up to a close friend or family member that they are able to trust. Once a teen gains a comfort level, they will pretty much open up about anything.

Recognizing teen depression can be difficult at times, but it is important to intervene in an attempt to save a life. Teen suicide among teens wth an autism spectrum disorder is nothing new. Sometimes just talking things out will help the teenager immensely. However, sometimes it may take more than just a one on one conversation. In severe cases, the teen may benefit from psychological counseling with a professional.

==> Help for Parents of Teens on the Autism Spectrum

Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum and Learning to Drive

"My daughter is 18 and has ASD [level 1]. Hers is particularly with anti-social behavior and thoughts. My entire family is ridiculing me for not forcing her to get her drivers license, but she is scared and doesn't want to. Should I force her to? Am I wrong?"

RE: "Should I force her to?" No. I'm pretty sure that would backfire. When teens get their driver’s license, parents get worried. And this worry is justified! Here are the alarming national teen driving statistics:
  • 16- and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.
  • 16-year-olds are 3 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers.
  • 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
  • About 2 out of every 3 teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes are males.
  • About 2,014 occupants of passenger vehicles ages 16-20 who are killed in crashes are not buckled up.
  • About 2,500 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 die in motor vehicle crashes every year.
  • About 31% of drivers ages 15-20 who are killed in motor vehicle crashes are drinking some amount of alcohol and 25% are alcohol-impaired (i.e., have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 grams per deciliter or higher).
  • About 37% of male drivers ages 15-20 who are involved in fatal crashes are speeding at the time.
  • About 63% of teenage passenger deaths occur in vehicles driven by another teenager.
  • About 81% of teenage motor vehicle crash deaths are passenger vehicle occupants.
  • Among deaths of passengers of all ages, 19% occur when a teenager is driving.
  • Crashes involving 15- to 17-year-olds cost more than $34 billion nationwide in medical treatment, property damage and other costs.
  • Drivers age 15-20 account for 12% of all drivers involved in fatal crashes and 14% of all drivers involved in police-reported crashes.
  • Hand-held cell phone use while driving is highest among 16- to 24-year-olds.
  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds.

Now, throw Aspergers (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) into the mix – and parents really do have something to worry about. For a teenager on the autism spectrum, it often takes quite a bit longer to learn all the implications of driving. What may be a problem for the young driver is the ability to judge what other road users, pedestrians, animals, etc. might do and how this should affect his driving. Understanding that not all drivers and other road users obey all of the rules all of the time is a real challenge for young drivers on the autism spectrum.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Neurotypical (i.e., non-autistic) teens effortlessly talk on their cell phones when driving. They smoke cigarettes, eat a sandwich, sing to the radio, and nonchalantly discuss all sorts of topics with their passenger-friends. While they are doing all this multi-tasking, they also have to watch out for other cars in front of and behind them, shift gears, reverse, use the windshield wipers, brake, and so on.

However, for teens with AS and HFA to perform all the above tasks simultaneously is very difficult due their input system. When performing a task which requires concentration, most teens on the spectrum prefer total silence (or at least very little noise). They may not mind listening to a bit of music, but usually don't like someone talking to them because they have to (a) listen to what the other person is saying, (b) think of an answer, and (c) reply.

So how can parents ensure that their "special needs" teenager will not end up killing himself while on the road? Below are some critical tips to consider.

Driving Tips Specifically Related to AS and HFA—

1. Long before driving comes into the picture, be sure to help your child learn how to ride a bike. Learning to ride a bike as a youngster is a very good foundation for anyone with an autism spectrum disorder. Bike-riding skills will help the child become more aware of the possible actions of other drivers and pedestrians. Also having an instructor who is aware of the anxieties and other issues that AS and HFA teens will have goes a long way toward positive lessons where what is taught and being learned is remembered and recalled.

2. Have your teen take driving lessons with a driver education instructor, but double the amount of physical driving practice to help him really get used to reacting to normal driving situations.

3. Ask the instructor to allow your teen to take frequent breaks during driving instruction sessions.

4. Ask the instructor to use physical cues to help with estimating speed and distance. Also ask that the driving instructions be broken down into small sections.

5. Bring information that can help the driving instructor adapt strategies to help your AS or HFA teen understand better.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

6. Don't let your teen use computer simulation when practicing to drive. The teenager on the autism spectrum may not generalize the information well enough from computer to real life situations, plus it could confuse him.

7. Have a driving instructor assess your teen’s visual/motor skills. You want to know how easily he gets distracted.

8. Have you teen drive along familiar routes as often as possible. New routes and not knowing where they are going can easily distract and upset teens on the spectrum.

9. Have your teen continue to practice his driving skills even after he has already passed his driving test.

10. Help your teen apply for a driving license at the normal legal age, but be sure to put down Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism on the application at the DMV. It's against the law not to declare this on the application, but it won't disqualify your teen for getting a license.

11. Simulate situations in an empty parking lot that require avoidance steering, emergency breaking and distractions like loud music, water on the windshield and pedestrians until the teen driver is comfortable.

12. Teach your teen to remain calm when other drivers break the rules of the road. AS and HFA teens follow the rules of the road and the signs concretely, sometimes to a fault. Help your teen anticipate the actions of other cars by observing their behavior.

With the above information in mind, parents should be able to have some peace-of-mind knowing that their young driver with special needs will make it home safely with nothing more than an occasional fender-bender.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Helping Teens on the Autism Spectrum to Cope with the Loss of Normalcy

“I have a 16 y.o. teen with high functioning autism who seems to be down in the dumps a lot lately. He has stated he knows he is ‘different’ than his friends and classmates, and may be feeling a sense of shame about that (IDK?). How can I help him to not feel so alienated from his peer group?”

Regardless of the individual developmental route, most young people with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS) start realizing that they are not quite like others at some point during their adolescence. Around that age, they have a higher level of interest in others, but don’t have the skills to connect in socially-accepted ways. Also, they’re at the age where they have a higher level of insight into their difficulties with social interaction.

Signs that your HFA or AS teen is feeling depressed about his dilemma include:
  • Withdrawing himself from the rest of the family
  • Refusing to participate in group activities
  • Putting himself down (e.g., saying he is ‘stupid’)
  • Not being able to fall asleep
  • Waking up in the middle of the night and having difficulty falling back to sleep
  • Making remarks such as he hates life, he hates you, nobody loves him, or wishing he was dead
  • Losing interest in activities he usually enjoys
  • Eating less or more than usual
  • Complaining that he is tired all the time and wanting to take naps during the day
  • Blaming himself unfairly for anything that goes wrong
  • Becoming irritable and angry with the drop of a hat so that parents start walking on egg shells
  • Appearing sad for most of the time

Once the HFA or AS teenager realizes that he has significant difficulties effectively engaging in social relationships as compared to his peers, he needs deal with this loss, just like dealing with any other loss. Understanding the thoughts, feelings and behavior of your son is the necessary first step in helping him and being there for him. Considering this coping process in a few stages may make your job easier:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Depression
  4. Acceptance
  5. Adaptation

Most commonly, the teen will not go through these stages one after another, but rather display a larger or smaller aspect of each at any given time. This is a painful process for not only the teen, but for parents as well. Moms and dads may find themselves compelled to forget the whole thing and act as if nothing is happening (we are all tempted to avoid pain – and denial is an excellent pain-killer).

The good news is, as much as the denial is contagious, seeing his parents dealing with the pain calmly and matter-of-factly will encourage the teen to talk about his anger and frustration. This will in turn help him get closer to acceptance and adaptation.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

How parents can help:
  • You don’t have to bring up the fact that your teen feels alienated from the peer group, but when he does, give him a good listening ear and be patient.
  • When your teen starts to bemoan his circumstances, don’t try to change the subject (unless he does so).
  • Sometimes you have to be very political trying to sell an idea to any teenager. The mere fact that the idea is coming from you, his parent, may make him refuse it. Let the idea come from a family friend, teacher, or a neighbor he trusts. Give him time to think about it. He may come back to the suggestion when he feels he is ready.
  • Offer the option of counseling, because sometimes it is easier to talk to a stranger; however, try not to push the idea directly, even if you feel that your teenager clearly needs professional help.
  • Most teenagers with HFA and AS excel in one or two subjects. They tend to accumulate a lot of information on the subject and love to talk about it over and over. Unfortunately, family members eventually end up losing interest and start getting bored with the same topic over and over again. Rather than avoiding the subject, try finding out new ways to engage your teen in the subject. Structure the topic in a different way. Find a way to challenge him. Be creative and let sky be the limit! Your interest will make him feel better about himself, and realizing his mastery on the subject will boost his self-esteem.
  • Help your HFA or AS teen to resolve his sense of loss by turning the issue upside down. In other words, rather than clinging to depression and despair, help him to find his identity in his disorder. Help him get in touch with other young people on the spectrum. Encourage him to educate his peers about the disorder at school. Your “special needs” teenager could also set up a web site, chat room, and even write a book about it. Encouraging your teen to focus on the strengths associated with the disorder, and providing him means to this end and removing the obstacles in front of him may turn out to be the best anti-depressant treatment ever. 
  • Don’t try to minimize his difficulties – but also don’t let him exaggerate, providing gentle “reality testing.”

All of this may seem remote and you may not know where to start. Consider the following tips:
  • Leave brochures, leaflets and other information about teen groups around to catch the attention of your teenager.
  • Invite your friends and acquaintances to your house and encourage them to bring their adolescents (e.g., for a pizza party and movie).
  • Get in touch with the organizations like the Autism Society of America or Asperger Syndrome Coalition of the U.S. and contact their local chapters.
  • Attend support groups for parents and make acquaintances.
  • If your attempts to reconcile this issue of alienation don’t work right away, don’t get discouraged and keep trying, always letting your teen make the first move in showing an interest in processing and resolving his challenges.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers & High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Moodiness and Depression in Teens with Asperger's and HFA

“How should I handle my teenage son’s emotional instability? Specifically, how can I tell the difference between 'normal' moodiness that occurs in adolescence and depression? My son seems to have significantly more ‘downs’ than ‘ups’. He’s usually very grouchy and pretty much stays to himself. Is this typical for teens with level 1 autism? Should I be concerned? What can I do to help?”

Moodiness and depression are common among teens in general. And young people with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are at even greater risk for these comorbid conditions. Teens on the autism spectrum have a “developmental disorder,” which means that their emotional age is significantly younger than their chronological age.

For example, the teenager may be 16-years-old, but still have the social skills of a 9-year-old. This dilemma causes problems for the teen due to the fact that he or she experiences great difficulty in relating to same-age peers, which in turn may result in rejection from the peer group – and this contributes largely to the AS or HFA teen’s lack of self-esteem and depression.

In addition, cognitive control systems lag behind emotional development making it hard for AS and HFA teens to cope with their emotions. Furthermore, beyond the biological factors, a lot of other changes are occurring during adolescence (e.g., experiencing first loves and breakups, butting heads with parents, start of high school, etc.). No wonder some teens on the spectrum struggle through this time in their life.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Unfortunately, other complicating factors are at play during the teenage years:

Difficulty with transitions— Largely due to the uneasy transition toward adulthood, most teens on the spectrum experience an increase in anxiety. It is during this time that they are dangling between the dependency of childhood and the responsibilities of adulthood. It can feel intimidating to prepare to leave high school, head off to college, or into the job market. All these factors induce more mood swings and anxiety in AS and HFA teens.

Peer-rejection— Many teens on the spectrum are deliberately excluded from social relationships among their age group. As a result, they often choose to isolate themselves, which makes a bad problem worse. A teenager who feels rejected often spends too much time playing video games and on social networking sites, thus losing touch with peers even more. Teens who are ostracized by their peers also tend to underachieve academically.

Poor social skills— Most young people with AS and HFA experience social skills deficits. As a result, interactions with peers become very unpleasant. The more they “fail” in connecting with peers, the more they isolate. They want to “fit-in” and be accepted, but simply haven’t figured out the social politics needed to find and keep friends.

Low self-esteem— Peer-group rejection results in a decline in their self-image, a state of despair, behavioral difficulties, loneliness and seclusion.

So as a parent, how do you know when to wait out the moods – and when to worry? The truth is that it's difficult to know, because every teenager is different. Rapid physiological changes are occurring during adolescence. Therefore, a degree of vacillation between "ups" and "downs" can be expected. However, there is big difference between teenage mood swings and genuine depression. The major symptoms of depression may include:
  • changes in appetite
  • episodes of moping and crying
  • fatigue
  • loss of enthusiasm or interest in favorite activities
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • mood swings that seem out of proportion to the circumstances
  • negative self-concept
  • outbursts of anger 
  • painful thoughts that manifest themselves in relentless introspection
  • persistent anxiety
  • persistent sadness
  • poor school performance
  • sense of hopelessness
  • withdrawal and isolation

If an AS or HFA teenager is suffering from depression, parents can expect to see the following symptoms unfold in three successive stages:
  1. Inability to concentrate, withdrawal from friends, impulsive acts, and declining academic performance
  2. Acts of aggression, rapid mood swings, loss of friends, mild rebellion, and sudden changes in personality
  3. Overt rebellion, extreme fatigue, giving away prized possessions, expressions of hopelessness, and suicidal threats or gestures

Other common symptoms of depression in adolescents include: eating or sleeping too much, feeling extremely sensitive, feeling misunderstood, feeling negative and worthless, poor attendance at school, self-harm, and using recreational drugs or alcohol.

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

Symptoms caused by depression can vary from child to child. To discover the type of depression your AS or HFA teenager has, your physician may add one or more “specifiers.” A specifier simply means that your teen has depression with specific features, for example:
  • Seasonal pattern: depression related to changes in seasons and reduced exposure to sunlight
  • Mixed features: simultaneous depression and mania, which includes elevated self-esteem, talking too much, and increased energy
  • Melancholic features: severe depression with lack of response to something that used to bring pleasure and associated with early morning awakening, major changes in appetite, feelings of guilt, agitation or sluggishness, and worsened mood in the morning 
  • Catatonia: depression that includes motor activity that involves either uncontrollable and purposeless movement or fixed and inflexible posture
  • Atypical features: depression that includes the ability to temporarily be cheered by happy events, increased appetite, sensitivity to rejection, a heavy feeling in the arms or legs, and excessive need for sleep
  • Anxious distress: depression with unusual restlessness or worry about possible events or loss of control


1. Psychotherapy: Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression in AS and HFA teens (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy). Psychotherapy can help your teen:
  • regain a sense of satisfaction and control in his or her life
  • ease depression symptoms (e.g., hopelessness and anger)
  • learn to set realistic goals for his or her life
  • identify negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones
  • identify issues that contribute to his or her depression
  • change behaviors that make depression worse
  • find better ways to cope and solve problems
  • explore relationships and experiences
  • develop positive interactions with peers
  • develop the ability to tolerate and accept distress using healthier behaviors
  • adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty

2. Alternative Therapies: Therapies other than face-to-face office sessions are available and can be highly effective for teens on the autism spectrum (e.g., as a computer program, by online sessions, or using videos or workbooks). These can be guided by a therapist or be totally independent.

3. Social Skills Training: Teens on the autism spectrum experience depression largely due to their awkwardness in interpersonal relationships. Thus, social skills training is perhaps the best method for combating depression in these young people. A major goal of social skills training is teaching AS and HFA teens:
  • how to understand verbal and nonverbal behaviors involved in social interactions
  • how to make "small talk" in social settings
  • the importance of good eye contact during a conversation
  • how to "read" the many subtle cues contained in social interactions
  • how to tell when someone wants to change the topic of conversation or shift to another activity
  • how to interpret social signals so that they can determine how to act appropriately in the company of others in a variety of different situations

Social skills training assumes that when “special needs” teens improve their social skills and change selected behaviors, they will raise their self-esteem and increase the likelihood that others will respond favorably to them. The AS or HFA teen learns to change his or her social behavior patterns by practicing selected behaviors in individual or group therapy sessions.

4. Medication: Many types of antidepressants are available, including:
  • Atypical antidepressants (Wellbutrin XL, Wellbutrin SR, Aplenzin, Forfivo XL, Remeron, Trintellix)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Parnate, Nardil, Marplan, Emsam)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Celexa, Prozac, Paxil, Pexeva, Zoloft, Viibryd)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Cymbalta, Effexor XR, Pristiq, Khedezla, Fetzima)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (Tofranil, Pamelor, Surmontil, Norpramin, Vivactil)

Other medications can be added to an antidepressant to enhance antidepressant effects. Your physician may recommend combining two antidepressants or adding medications (e.g., mood stabilizers or antipsychotics). Anti-anxiety and stimulant medications can also be added for short-term use.

Other things that parents can do to combat moodiness and depression in their AS or HFA teenager include: encouraging physical activity; praising the youngster's skills; promoting participation in organized activities; reminding your youngster that you care by listening, showing interest in his or her problems, and respecting his or her feelings; and setting aside time each day to talk to your youngster (this step is crucial in preventing further isolation, withdrawal, and progressive depression).

==> Discipline for Defiant Aspergers and High-Functioning Autistic Teens

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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