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


The Challenges of Puberty in Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

"We seem to be having ever increasing difficulty with our 13-year-old daughter (high functioning autistic). We began to notice a change for the worse around the time she reached puberty. Her anger and anxiety have reached a new level. She also seems very very depressed much of the time. Is this normal for a teen with this disorder? What can we do to slow down what I see as a train wreck in the making?"

Puberty brings with it challenges for all children, however, children with ASD level 1 [High-Functioning Autism] face increased challenges through puberty. The behavior issues of impulsivity can increase in both frequency and intensity.

Kids with ASD who experienced bullying in elementary school - and now continue to experience bullying during their middle school years - may become increasingly aggressive. 

Adolescence can become a very difficult time for a child with ASD as peers may no longer be willing to tolerate someone who seems different. Moodiness, depression and anxiety can also develop in adolescence due to hormonal imbalances, resulting in increased separation of the "special needs" teen from his/her peers.

Adolescence is a time when social demands become more complex, and it becomes increasingly important to be able to understand social cues. Children with ASD can be more vulnerable to (a) manipulation by others and (b) peer pressure. They are likely to experience more rejection among their peers. With young people on the autism spectrum, interaction with peers usually creates more anxiety than interaction with younger or older people.

In order to create a few parenting changes that may help your daughter through this difficult time, answer the following:
  • Do any particular situations seem to trigger defiant behavior in your daughter?
  • Has your daughter been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
  • Have your daughter's teachers reported similar symptoms?
  • How do you typically discipline your daughter?
  • How have you been handling your daughter's disruptive behavior?
  • How often has she refused to follow through with your rules or requests?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter argued with you or her teachers?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been angry or lost her temper?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been vindictive, or blamed others for her own mistakes?
  • How often over the last six months has your daughter been touchy or easily annoyed?
  • How would you describe your daughter's home and family life?
  • What are your daughter's symptoms?
  • When did you first notice these symptoms?

Here are a few parenting strategies that can help:

1. If you're depressed or anxious, that could lead to disengagement from your daughter, which can trigger or worsen her behavior. Let go of things that you or your daughter did in the past. Start each day with a fresh outlook and a clean slate. Learn ways to calm yourself, and take time for yourself.

2. Set up a routine. Develop a consistent daily schedule for your daughter. Asking your daughter to help develop that routine can be helpful.

3. Remind yourself that your daughter’s behavior is most likely a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent catastrophe.
==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

4. Recognize and praise your daughter's positive behaviors. Be as specific as possible (e.g., "I really liked the way you helped pick up your room tonight").

5. Pick your battles carefully. Avoid power struggles. Almost everything can turn into a power struggle — if you let it.

6. Model the behavior you want your daughter to exhibit.

7. Develop a united front. Work with your spouse to ensure consistent and appropriate discipline procedures.

8. Build in time together. Develop a consistent weekly schedule that involves you and daughter being together.

9. Assign your daughter a household chore that's essential and that won't get done unless she does it. Initially, it's important to set your daughter up for success with tasks that are relatively easy to achieve, then gradually blend in more important and challenging expectations.

10. At first, your daughter is not likely to be cooperative or appreciate your changed response to her behavior. Setbacks and relapses are normal, so be prepared with a plan to manage those occasions. Behavior often temporarily worsens when new limits and expectations are set. But, with persistence and consistency, the initial hard work will pay off with improved behavior. Also, as she passes though the storms of adolescence, things are likely to improve by default.



•    Anonymous said... Alpha-Stim AID for anxiety. And, it gets better once adult.
•    Anonymous said... Encouraging articles.
•    Anonymous said... I'm having the same problem with my son. He is on a low dose antidepressant and it made such a difference. My happy boy is back.
•    Anonymous said... I've been going through that with my 13 y/o Aspie, too. Wicked anxiety and depression. It really started at about 10 or 11 and peaked for us this year. Luckily, between therapy and regular talks, we're in a better place now. I try not to rush her or stress her out. Her daily routines help calm her so we do our best not to interfere with them.
•    Anonymous said... Jed Baker gave the best explanation of one of the reasons why this happens, they become aware of all the drs, meds, therapies, spec schools etc, that they feel they are broken and unfixable. This happened to my son too. Meds and therapy helped, but Jed Baker also adds that we must increase our praise to help them during these years. I can honestly say doing this has helped our son. Good Luck!
•    Anonymous said... Medication. Risperdal and depakote work great but cause weight gain.
•    Anonymous said... My daughter too is in a major depression, she is on depokote and it is not working, neither did Prozac and another anxiety medicine. Feeling hopeless/helpless over here
•    Anonymous said... my son is 16 and is a nightmare with moods, temper, despite what we do as parents its not enough. he wont chat.!
•    Anonymous said... Totally! Normal! My guys meltdowns increased & aggression. I stuck to my guns with him and haven't used Meds. I've used humour, timeouts & rewards. It's hard but he's trying very hard!
•    Anonymous said... We are in the SAME boat over here!!!
•    Anonymous said... Yes yes yes!!! Totally normal...unfortunately! We got my daughter back into counseling and had a medication change also. Good luck .
•    Anonymous said… She's probably having trouble making/keeping friends and is likely being bullied. This is the age where they become acutely aware that they are different from others. Does she have any hobbies? I would strongly suggest getting her involved with a group of kids with similar interests, social skills groups, etc.
•    Anonymous said… my son has autism and i know is similar to aspergers. He is 17 now and I wish all the parents out there with teenage children with aspergers all the luck in the world through this difficult stage in both yours and their lives xxxx
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is only 10, going through puberty and anxiety is at an all time high!
•    Anonymous said… My daughter is 6 (almost 7) and is showing physical signs of puberty (breast development and armpit hair - along with the odor). She has become increasingly non-compliant in school and becoming more aggressive towards her teachers... At home she's almost a perfect little angel. Of course we have a very strict schedule/routine at home and any change in it has to be explained thoroughly before we get compliance.
•    Anonymous said… I'm 26 and autistic and still can't deal with puberty. It's extremely hard to explain. I just can't accept the physical change in myself or friends I knew before/during it. It's just too different seeing them with facial hair etc. I find it very crippling that my mind makes these natural things so hard to deal with even when they've happened a long time ago.

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Sibling Issues: Tips for Parents Dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder

"Any tips for a mom who has to constantly explain to the children who DON'T have autism (high functioning) how to get along with their brother who DOES?  Help!"

In most cases, ASD [High-Functioning Autism] is a condition in families where both parents and siblings must learn to adapt and understand the condition at the level they are able. 

While moms and dads are learning to cope themselves, it is often difficult to see that there are other children involved—children who may be suffering themselves from the confusion of understanding the nature of the disorder in their family.

As a parent, it’s important to understand that kids learn things at different rates and in different ways than adults. They have questions about how to understand the behavior of their sibling that need as much attention as the ASD child needs. As the family grows, more questions will arise, and all of the children in the family need to learn the best ways to adapt to the behaviors of the child on the autism spectrum.

How ASD gets explained to siblings depends upon the age of the sibling and on the particular problems the affected child is having. For some kids, they just need to know that their brother or sister has a brain condition that leads him/her to resist change or to become fixated on certain things. Other children have the maturity to understand the nuances of how difficult it is for the "special needs" child to understand the emotions of others and to communicate non-verbally with others.

Some siblings can act-out angrily as "the child who isn’t getting the family’s attention." Others find themselves being their “brother’s keeper,” fending-off comments and teasing from other kids who see their ASD brother or sister as a freak. A sort of unnecessary maturity is forced on the sibling to be the protector or go-between when it comes to other children and their autistic sibling.

As a mother or father, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open in discussing the problems that may come up or the ways everyone can cope with the disorder in the family. Family therapy helps in some cases and should be an option for all families dealing with sibling issues related to ASD.


•    Anonymous said... I DESPERATELY NEED HELP in this area too!
•    Anonymous said... i know its repetitive but just keep telling them no matteer how many tyms. it will eventually sink in. the non aspies get frustrated also.
•    Anonymous said... I say to my 'other' son that we have to practice patience. But my aspie son does not have too many different rules, he is treated the same as the others. He must learn the rules or not play. He receives the same punishments. The difference is upfront consequences, they need the outcome to logically understand why.
•    Anonymous said... my 12 year old son adores his 4 year old non-aspie sister..... she gets a little frustrated when he hugs her too hard....but that the worst of it....lol....so far.•    Anonymous said… I eventually got tough with the older... I said, you brother learns differently...
•    Anonymous said… I highly recommend sending the other kids to a Sibshop. It has helped my daughter a lot, and she is more confortable talking about her feeling regarding her brother. There are a bunch of good kid books on Amazon to help kids understand.
•    Anonymous said… Is simply told my other son that the one has autism. Try getting that Holly Robinson Peete book, it explains it well to other siblings.
•    Anonymous said… My aspie has two younger twin sisters. It took several attempts but after breaking it down to them and explaining to them that their brother processes information differently and went into detail ( on their age level) about what that meant. They have finally begin to understand what that means and have started getting along better. I guess it all boils down to education about Aspergers.
•    Anonymous said… My middle child has AS and has an older and younger sister, the younger gets on fine with him but i found with the older (and with him as well) that it really helped sitting down with her and saying J has AS that means x y and z...which meant next time he did something she could say does he do this because he has AS? LIke wearing a jumper all day today when its been 30 degrees C.....
•    Anonymous said… My older two care less about the AS diagnosis. ..they think their brother should be like them period ..it is really hard to explain to a 19 and 17 year old about something they don't believe in...they feel like I am being unfair.

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Dietary & Therapeutic Considerations for Autism Spectrum Disorder [level 1]

ASD [High-Functioning Autism] is a neurobiological disorder that has no known cause or cure. For this reason, a number of alternative therapies have been tried to improve the symptoms of ASD and other autistic spectrum disorders.

Much has been made about the gluten-free and casein-free diet. This includes a diet virtually void of wheat, oat, rye and barley foods as well as any dairy foods that generally contain casein. Many parents have noted significant improvement in the behavioral symptoms of their child. Such a diet can be difficult to arrange, but there are web sites that sell products free of casein and gluten, and a few week's trial of the diet may make a difference that no medication can do.

Other alternative therapies include chelation therapy (rids the body of heavy metals which may be contributing to the symptoms), cranio-sacral therapy, auditory integration therapy, sensory integration therapy and music therapy. Some of these alternative therapies have gone past being “alternative” and have reached mainstream medical therapies.

A natural supplement found to be helpful in ASD is called L-Carnosine, a supplement that is a protein combination of alanine and histadine. In several studies, it has been shown to improve the auditory processing skills, socialization, speech production, fine motor skills and language skills of children with autism spectrum disorders.

Certain digestive enzymes have been developed for kids with ASD and related disorders. It is felt that the enzymes reduce the amount of undigested food that unhealthy gut bacteria thrive on.

Some researchers believe that kids with ASD are deficient in glutathione. Some companies now manufacture what is called liposome-enclosed glutathione. Glutathione is an antioxidant that also helps rid the body of toxins, including heavy metals.

Electrolyte solutions containing minerals are used to prevent dehydration and add valuable minerals to the child’s diet. In addition, phosphatidyl serine is used because it is known to regenerate damaged nerve cells and improve memory, learning and concentration.

There is much less research on dietary supplements and dietary changes in children with ASD and related disorders. Any research done is often done on extremely small numbers of children, so they can’t be widely recommended; however, none of these therapies are harmful to the body, so they may be tried safely in families looking to optimize their youngster’s level of functioning. As an example, numerous parents have reported wonderful results when giving their child melatonin for sleep issues.


•    Anonymous said... Avoiding dyes, ESP red 40. The frustrating thing is that most kids antibiotics are pink and have red 40
•    Anonymous said... omega 3 fish oil capsules/oil of evening primrose capsules/good multi vitamin and mineral supplement,
•    Anonymous said... So, is it possible it's the GMOs that are in almost all wheat, soy and corn causing the problems and not the actual gluten? Why after thousands of years are people all of a sudden reacting to gluten? Organic foods are GMO free!
•    Anonymous said... We removed all artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives and saw a HUGE difference in about a week. It's worth a try for a week to see if it will help your child. We saw huge improvements in stimming, focus, hyperactivity, and meltdowns decreased. It worked better than any medications we have tried.
On a side note, most of the colors/flavors/preservatives are banned in other countries as a known health hazard for human consumption. Yet our government allows it. I'll let you do the research if you choose
•    Anonymous said... We've been doing the GAPS diet for 4+ months. We've seen huge gains (among the most impressive have been the initiation of pretend play -- there was zero before -- vanishing of rough play, and excellent growth in social and verbal skills). GAPS (similar to and based on SCD) removes all processed foods, grains, sugars (except in fruit and honey) and starches, and is designed to heal and seal the gut lining. It's a commitment, but it has been totally worth the effort and expense. Also, it has changed my super-picky eater into the kid who asks for vegetables for snack and plain fruit as dessert!
•    Anonymous said... when we look that he GF/CF diet, there was a lot of referring to gluten and casein being changed into a type of morphine in the brain and this is why these kids crave for these foods, it's like a drug addiction. When we change our son's diet, we had it rough for about 5 weeks and it was apparently his body going thru withdraws. We have taken additives out and added omega 3,6 and 9 which contains evening primrose oil and it has worked really well, a different kid.
•    Anonymous said... With my son we have to avoid dyes and colorants along with a lot of sugar. But he craves dairy and salt. Not sure why yet.

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