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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Parenting Adolescents with Autism

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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.

Quality of Life

At the end of the day, most everyone agrees that an individual’s quality of life, both now and in the future, is the best compass. While all parents want to prepare their children to leave the nest and make good decisions about relationships, careers, and personal interests, parents of teens on the autism spectrum need to be extra involved in developing those abilities. These parents often start worrying about how their child will navigate the world as early as preschool. The argument of quality of life versus academic success is not lost on them, but they need to understand their options and the resources that will be required as their child enters adolescence.

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