When Your Autistic Child Grows into an Autistic Teen

Autism is a developmental disorder that has wide levels of variation. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general term for a variety of complex disorders of the brain, which are typically recognized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behavior. Up until recently, there were variations or subtypes of ASD, considered to be distinct disorders. However, in the May 2013 version of the DSM, the ASD diagnosis now groups all of these variations into one disorder. Generally, autism is a complex developmental disorder characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication skills, and repetitive behavior.

Likely, you’ve already experienced the challenges of raising an autistic child. Add to this the complexities of adolescence and there might be further challenges to bear, as your child becomes a teen. For instance, there are physical, emotional, psychological, and social changes that a teen must adjust to. The fact that an autistic child already has social impairments might make it even more difficult at school or with friends during adolescence. Furthermore, with a disturbance in communication skills, an autistic child may not have the ability to communicate his or her discomforts. Instead, without the right amount of support from parents and teachers, an autistic teen might retreat inward and become withdrawn.

Fortunately, the levels of support for an autistic teen has improved. Although 15 years ago was the beginning of an epidemic, schools are beginning to include autistic teens into the mainstream education system versus placing them in special education. Prior to the recent increased recognition of autistic children, it was believed that autism affected one in 2500 births. Today, approximately, 1 in 88 children are recognized as having ASD, which is 10 times more than 40 years ago. The increase is due primarily to an increase in awareness and improvements in recognizing early symptoms and diagnosing ASD appropriately.

The following are tools parents and educators can use to facilitate making this already challenging life stage more manageable for an autistic teen:

Visual Aids

Predictability is like a solid foundation that children with autism can rely on. However, when there is a change in activity or environment, a good way to communicate that change is through visual learning. According to Dr. William Frea, author of the article Parenting Adolescents with Autism, children and adolescents with autism are visual learners, and the use of visual supports are a way of teaching a child about an upcoming change. In general, visual tools are very effective for teaching, guiding, and modeling for autistic teens.


Visual tools can help reveal and communicate an upcoming change; however, moving through the details of that change with practice can further provide a level of support and comfort for an autistic child. For instance, if your teen has to be reassigned to another classroom, practicing social skills with other students, introductions with the new teacher, and anything else that might be expected with the change. One way to do this in this case is to visit the new classroom, meet with the teacher ahead of time, and practice appropriate ways to behave in class.

Foster Independence

As any parent, at some point, you’ll want to support your autistic teen’s autonomy and independence. Ensuring that your adolescent has the skills to eventually make it on his or her own might be a task that you’ll be more heavily involved in as a parent of an autistic child. Depending on his or her level of functioning, there’s no reason why your teen cannot move out, get a job, and find a partner to marry, when the time is right. With this in mind, it is important to begin foster your teen’s adult life by facilitating skills of relationship building, cooking, cleaning, use of public transportation, bathing, priority sorting, basic financial management, and more. By supporting the development of these skills now, you can facilitate the overall well being in your child.

Furthermore, teens who participate in at least 25 hours of structured, therapeutic activities per week; work with highly trained behavioral therapists; aim towards specific learning objectives; interact with peers with and without autism; cultivate social, communication, and daily living skills; and who have a team of professionals working together on their behalf are likely to experience an improvement in symptoms of Autism and their quality of life.


Frea, W. Parenting Adolescents with Autism. Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center. WebMD. Retrieved on March 14, 2014 from http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/features/parenting-adolescents-with-autism