Secondary school is a whirlwind of changes for all teenagers, but it can be especially overwhelming for those with autism. Getting used to a new environment, different teachers, and all kinds of social rules can cause significant anxiety for teenagers with autism, and you may be worried about how your own child will respond to the stress.
To help your teen thrive academically and socially, it’s important to allow them to have more freedom, help them ease into the new routines, and make sure they get the resources they need.
Autism During Teenage Years
Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of the book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, is also a public speaker dedicated to helping parents raise and understand their children with autism. She reports that many parents tell her that their child’s behavior seems to be getting worse as they reach their teenage years, but Sicile-Kira thinks this is simply a misunderstanding. "The teens are not getting more noncompliant because their autism is getting worse. It's because they're teenagers," she states.
Just like every other teenager, your teen will crave independence. They may become more moody due to hormonal changes, and they may not want to talk or listen to you as often. However, unlike their peers, teenagers with autism usually don’t have the same outlets to express their teenage woes. Their moodiness may manifest in different behaviors, such as frequent mood swings or becoming non-communicative at times.
It’s crucial for parents to remember that those on the autism spectrum tend to have trouble identifying and expressing their feelings, and puberty may cause unfamiliar emotions. During hormonal and physical changes, your teen might not understand why they feel upset or sad. They may also be confused as to why they need to make changes in their routine, so try to clearly explain the reasons to them. Being patient, direct, and encouraging can help your teen get off to a great start.
Challenges of Secondary School
As your teen enters secondary school, they will likely face more challenges than their peers. Most people have common knowledge about how to navigate social situations and know what’s OK to discuss and what should remain private. Teens with autism may have more trouble fitting in because they don’t necessarily understand the social rules that seem like “common sense” to their peers. Along with communicating, teenagers with autism might face other challenges including:
What You Can Do to Help
Beginning a new routine can be a turbulent and frustrating time for your teen. To help them transition into secondary school and make sure they continue receiving support, it’s recommended to create a transition plan. Depending on your child’s wants and needs, the plan may be more detailed, but the basic aspects of a plan include:
Secondary school comes with many challenges, but with the right support, patience, and understanding, your teen will excel and thrive. For more guidance, reach out to Dr. Syras Derksen.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen