The teenage years are a challenging time for all teenagers, both autistic and non-autistic, and for their parents and other close family.
Adolescence is a major stage of development in life. It’s the process of moving from childhood to adulthood. Teenagers need to establish a sense of self and personal identity that is separate from their parents. They may examine their values and beliefs and may explore different ideas and views.
Teenagers may feel conflicted between dependence and the need to become independent. The process of separating from parents can be difficult and may cause discord. Young people may miss the safety and security of the childhood relationship. But this conflicts with their need for independence and individuality.
It’s important for autistic teenagers to develop a positive sense of self and a positive autistic identity.
There are many organisations that celebrate autistic identity and culture. Exposure to organisations like this can help develop acceptance and pride. Teenagers may learn to appreciate the strengths that may come with their autism.
Teenagers, and their parents, can connect with these organisations through social media. You can visit their websites and sign up for newsletters. The Amaze website is a good place to start, but there are many more, including:
Identifying strengths helps to develop identity.
Exploring and deepening interests can help teenagers work out what they may want to do with their lives. Look for focused groups and clubs, classes and books based around their interests.
Sporting groups are a good example of an interest-focused group, but there are many more. Try a few until you find one that suits.
Here are some other common areas of interest for autistic teenagers. Look for local groups, online groups, classes, tutors – or a young person could start a group at school.
It can be good for autistic teenagers to meet their autistic peers. There are a few organisations that help autistic teenagers get together. There are always new groups forming.
You may also want to think about starting a group for autistic teenagers in your area. Contact the Amaze Autism Connect advisors on 1300 308 699, email [email protected] or use the webchat on this site for more information.
The transition to secondary school may be difficult for all teenagers but autistic teenagers may face extra challenges. Research the available schooling options for your child, investigate the options and work with the school to set up supports
Go and visit the schools that interest you. Try to make an appointment to see the Year 7 coordinator. Ask each school how it supports its autistic students and how they can support your child. It can be useful to prepare a list of questions or topics you would like to discuss. For example, how often do they hold Student Support Group (SSG) meetings for autistic students? Do they have lunchtime activities your young person can attend?
Amaze has a range of information sheets that can help with your choice of school and in preparing for the transition to secondary school in the resources section.
Some autistic traits can increase the risk of autistic young people being teased and bullied.
Having a literal understanding of language may make autistic young person vulnerable to teasing. Any lack of social skills can lead to misunderstandings about the intent of other students. Sometimes autistic teenagers mistake bullying for friendliness – or sensitivity to others’ comments may lead to mistaking friendly overtures as bullying.
Specific mannerisms, or stims, of autistic teenagers, such as hand flapping, rocking or self-commentary may also make them the target of bullies.
Talk with your teenager about learning to recognise suspicious or unfriendly behaviour. Discuss bullying and what your teenager can do if they’re bullied. Having lunchtime and break time activities can provide a safe place for your teenager.
The start of puberty ranges from 8-13 years in girls and 9-14 years in boys. Every child is different.
Puberty is a time of big changes for your child. You can help them by talking about puberty in a reassuring and matter-of-fact way.
As autistic young people reach puberty and their bodies begin to change, these physical changes may be out of step with their academic and social skills. As change is often challenging for autistic individuals, it’s important that they are prepared for the physical and emotional changes that puberty brings.
It’s not always easy to talk with children about their bodies. Relaxed and open conversations before puberty starts will help your child adjust.
You can use a three-step process to start a conversation about puberty:
You can start a conversation by commenting on a scene in a movie or TV show. You could talk about book that you’ve both read, or a comment on the radio as you’re driving in the car.
Try to have conversations when your child is ready to talk and listen. During puberty, teenagers want more privacy and time to themselves. It’s about picking the moments when your child seems open to talking.
Also, a teenager might not want to share everything with you anymore. Try not to force communication when they don’t want to talk. You could encourage them to talk to a school counsellor or a GP.
Give simple, factual explanations of physical changes. For example, ‘Periods are when the lining of your uterus comes out of your vagina. It looks like blood’. Using the right words when you’re talking about body parts can also be helpful; for example, ‘penis’ and ‘testes’.
Reinforce that physical changes are different for every child. For example, ‘Some children start getting pubic hair when they’re around 11, but it can be earlier or later’.
Family Planning Victoria has information about explaining puberty and sexuality to individuals with a disability.
Amaze, in partnership with Cottons, has created autism accessible menstruation resources, including social scripts and task analyses for using pads and using tampons.
From age 16, some autistic people may be eligible for a Disability Support Pension from Centrelink.
Carers need to be aware that their own payments may be affected and they will need to contact Centrelink before their child’s 16th birthday.
Contact Centrelink on 13 27 17 or visit their website.
You may also find the information sheet Centrelink – Turning 16 and Disability Support on the Resources page helpful.
Learning to drive is an important step to independence. Your child may be interested in learning to drive. Encourage them because it is a big step towards independence.
If you think your teen may need additional support to learn to drive contact the RACV. They have driving instructors who are experienced in teaching individuals with disabilities to drive. Visit the RACV website for more information.
Occupational Therapy Australia has a listing of therapists who specialise in driving. Choose ‘Driving’ in the ‘Specialty’ field.
Turning 18 is a huge event in anyone’s life because it’s when a person legally becomes an adult.
Your young person can now enrol to vote.
Like any other young adult, an autistic individual is legally entitled to make decisions for themselves, regardless of whether they have an intellectual disability or not. This may be a surprise or challenging transition for carers who have always had the role of decision maker.
If you feel that a family member is struggling with understanding and making informed decisions about their financial matters, medical needs, their day to day life or any other issue, contact the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
For further information about Guardianship, contact the Office of the Public Advocate.
The State Trustees also have information on a wide range of topics, such as financial planning, wills and trusts. They hold regular information for carers.
Contact the Amaze Autism Connect advisors on 1300 308 699, email [email protected] or use the webchat on this site. This service is open from 8am–7pm, Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays).