Some children who fit the Asperger profile are not identified or formally diagnosed until they become teenagers. Others may be identified young, and eventually settle down pretty well—until they become teenagers. In either case, AANE can help parents and teens navigate the new challenges that adolescence brings to the whole family.
Much of what helps parents of children remains relevant and important for parents of teens, because teens with an Asperger profile are still socially and emotionally immature compared to other teens. So try to be patient. Don’t expect your teen to do everything another teen his or her age can do. Continue to provide appropriate supports; don’t pull the “ramp” out from under the “wheelchair” too soon!
Interventions for families
When deciding how best to help your teen, you don’t have to do everything at once. You are allowed to make decisions that work for your child and family. You can try one or two practical strategies and see if they help. Many parents find the following general guidelines helpful. And remember, AANE is just a phone call or email away. We are happy to help.
Possible Shifts and Changes
Parent and teen dynamics are challenging enough—and having an Asperger profile in the family can intensify them. Now is a good time to sign up for some Parent Coaching, or contact AANE for the names of family therapists. We also recommend our webinar, 'Welcome to the Teen Years'.
Although some teens with Asperger profiles may be rather docile or child-like, the “job description” of a teenager is to pull away from parents and establish their independence. This process probably won’t be pretty at times. Be prepared to tolerate or ignore considerable distancing, surliness, or acting out. At the same time, set a few firm, bottom-line limits, and keep a close eye on the teen’s welfare.
Tell your teen only what s/he needs to know, one concise, calm message at a time. Visual communication may work better than oral communication; side-by-side conversations may be go better than face-to-face talks.
Discipline & Responsibility
Teens with an Asperger profile are highly sensitive to negative feedback or criticism; try to shape their behavior in other ways. More than ever: pick your battles. Both parents need to decide upon the most essential, bottom line rules—matters of safety and respect. Write them down. Concentrate on enforcing only these essential rules. Give the teen choices when possible, but not too many. Engage your teen in mutual problem-solving; what does he think would work?
Your teen is working hard to cope with a changing body, changing emotions, school, and homework. S/he may not have the energy to help around the house much. It’s great if s/he can gradually take on self-care tasks like doing his/her own laundry.
Discuss with the teen’s school team how you, as the parent, can gradually bow out of providing supervision and support for homework. Which educators, when and how, can help your teen with homework and study skills?
As teens become less and less willing to believe parents or take our advice, we need to recruit other trustworthy adults into their lives to teach and guide them. Who can mentor the teen at school? Also consider relatives (uncle, aunt, grandparent, cousin), scout leaders, music teachers, coaches, therapists or religious youth group leaders. Hire a college student as a big brother or big sister.
Instill the essential habit of a daily shower: peers, teachers, and future potential employers will be very put off by poor hygiene.
Teen Mental Health
Even previously well-adjusted children may become anxious or depressed in adolescence due to increased academic and social demands at school, or fears about the future. They may be at risk for hospitalizations, school avoidance or falling grades, rage, acting out (including alcohol and substance abuse), or even suicide attempts.
Don’t panic, however. Schedule a parent coaching session at AANE. We’ll help you decide what to, and find mental health professionals the family may need. We may discuss with you whether your teen needs a stronger IEP or a different school placement.
Friendships, Relationships, Sexuality, and Gender
Finding social acceptance in an activity-based teen social skills group is probably the most powerful way to allay a teen’s potential despair at not having friends. The new skills and increased self-confidence they gain will be assets for the rest of their lives.
Teens with Asperger profiles are less prepared than neurotypical teens for the new challenges of sexuality and romance. Some are unaware of these issues; others want a girl or boy friend, but are clueless about how to form and maintain a relationship. Boys especially may be at risk for accusations of harassment, and girls especially at risk for becoming victims. Teach appropriate boundaries and behaviors, or see that another adult does. Look for supervised activities in which boys and girls can socialize safely together, supervised by a staff person who knows Asperger profiles and can coach appropriate social skills.
Like other teens, teens with Asperger profiles may begin to question their gender identity and/or sexuality. We at AANE talk to many parents whose teens identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer). We can support parents in this situation, and guide you toward helpful resources. Because the issues are complex, you may wish to schedule a Parent Coaching hour to discuss them in depth.
Parent Mental Health
Kids with Asperger profiles can be difficult to parent even when they are young. Often, they neither express feelings in the ways we expect, nor respond as expected to the ways we try to communicate our love for them. Adding adolescence to the mix can make our relationships to our kids even more difficult.
As AANE’s Jean Stern says, “Spray yourself with Guilt-Away!” Forgive yourself for being an imperfect parent. We each offer our child our own unique talents, interests, and qualities, as people and as parents. We each do the best we can to gather the information, insights, resources, and services that will help our kids live and grow through adolescence. We each end up making significant sacrifices for our kids. It is a hard job. Give yourself credit and appreciation.
Build and use any support networks you can, including AANE parent face to face or online support groups or Parent Coaching. Consider asking for a referral to an individual or family therapist for a some extra support.
Parenting on the Same Page
If one parent has carried the major responsibility for caring directly for the children when they were young, now is a good time for the other parent to become a more active co-parenting partner, learn more about the teen’s Asperger profile, and to pay more attention to the teen.
To get onto the same page, try attending an AANE conference, workshop, parent support group, or Parent Coaching session together. Look at recommended resources for parents of teens. Discuss the information you gather, and decide what you want to try using when parenting your teen together. As you learn more about Asperger profiles, you may also come to better appreciate each other’s contributions to your child’s welfare. Attend team meetings at the school together, or alternate which parent attends. Seeing your child’s therapist together (possibly without the child), or seeing a couples or family therapist, may help you work together through a tough time.
Disclosure & Self-Advocacy
If you have not yet talked to your teen about his or her Asperger profile, you or someone else should begin to do so—to the extent that the teen is ready to hear it. It’s tricky for teens—they so much want to be “normal” and strong and successful. In truth, people who do the best are those who know themselves well—both their own strengths and their own areas of challenge.
Encourage your teen to carry a wallet disclosure card to show if stopped by a police officer.
Preparation for Transition to Adulthood
Assessments help determine: Where should the student, teachers, and parents focus their efforts during this student’s high school years? What can he do now? What are the most important skills she needs to learn before she graduates from high school or ages out? Assessments can also identify strengths, talents, and interests the teen can develop as tools or paths for a meaningful, productive adult life.
Transition Planning under an IEP
Every year of high school should help prepare your teen for a successful transition to adulthood—not just with academic skills, but with social skills and practical skills for success in employment and independent living. Beginning in 8th or 9th grade (or earlier if appropriate) the educational team should create individualized transition goals and services for the IEP.
AANE provides programs and supports for families whose teens are thinking about choosing and applying to college. We know what it’s like to try and decide if a teen is ready to live away at a residential college or needs more time and support at home or through gap year programs. No matter what path you are considering for life after high school, AANE can help you figure out the right fit for your teen and family.
There’s Light at the End of the Tunnel!
Thankfully, adolescence doesn’t last forever. Teens do continue to grow and develop. You may get some nice surprises along the way, as you see the teen take an unexpected baby steps or giant steps toward maturity and independence. And remember, AANE is just a phone call (or email) away. You are not alone!