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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Parenting Adolescents with Autism


In addition to having visual representations of the events of their day it is important to practice the activities that present the biggest challenges. The student may not understand how to navigate the interactions in a certain class, school routine, or community activity. Any interaction can be broken down and practiced. This not only makes it more predictable but allows an opportunity to develop a missing skill that may not have been identified before.

Whenever there is a new class, a new teacher, or a new event on the horizon try to get as much detail as possible. Identify what will be expected and practice it ahead of time in a safe and encouraging way. For example, visit the new class or observe the activity ahead of time. Make sure that the student has the skills or any necessary supports in place, such as knowing who to ask for help or knowing how to “opt out” appropriately.

Foster Independence

One of the most powerful treatments utilized at Autism Spectrum Therapies, a private agency serving children and families throughout Southern California, is self-management. There is a large body of research documenting the success of self-management, or self-regulatory, strategies with individuals on the autistic spectrum. This approach is particularly useful for both social skills and coping skills, as it provides support at times when a teacher or parent may not be present.

There are many different procedures used under this form of treatment. In general, it involves teaching individuals to observe and control their own behavior. The process may involve teaching a specific social skill or coping strategy to use in potentially difficult situations. This method is extremely successful. Having these strategies in place allows individuals to use them independently, whenever and wherever they need them. As adolescents with autism become better at monitoring, recording, and rewarding their own behavior, more skills can be added. In a sense, they ultimately become their own therapist.

Eventually, teens with autism need to become more independent using social skills, adaptive and community skills, and overall living skills. When entering middle school, a global assessment should be conducted to evaluate a child’s current level of independence and what immediate and long-term goals should be put in place. This exercise can be stressful, as middle school is an intensely social and academic time of life for students, and the decision to shift priorities away from the “norm” to more social and adaptive priorities can be a difficult one. One way of looking at this dilemma is, “How useful are these academic skills if my child does not know how to socialize effectively and live independently?” While it’s important for adolescents with autism to succeed academically, it is equally important for them to develop the skills they’ll need to maintain a job or intimate adult relationships.

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