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Parenting Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Tips for Parents to Navigate the Adolescent Years

by Patricia Sarmiento, publichealthcorps.org

Parenting any teenager is one of the most challenging periods in parenthood. If you have a teenager who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you might not know what you can expect. Teens who struggle with behavior control and aggression, for instance, may have increasing difficulty communicating their emotions in a productive way. This and other challenges are only compounded by the fluctuating hormones all teens experience. If you have a teen with ASD, these tips will help you survive the teenage years with your sanity intact.

Give Your Teen More Control as Appropriate

Teenagers often crave more independence, and for teens with ASD, the need to stick to a regimented schedule can make them feel like they have no control over anything that goes on throughout the day. That doesn't mean you need to throw your schedules out the window, but you may need to make some changes.

Instead of nixing the idea of having a schedule altogether, identify a few areas where you can add some flexibility and let your teen make some choices. Subtle changes like these allow you to maintain the schedules that are so critical for your child's success while still fostering a sense of independence.

Look to Others for Advice

A few decades ago, there weren't many teenagers with ASD. The rate of children being diagnosed with ASD began to rise in the 1990s. Now, children diagnosed during that time are reaching adolescence and adulthood, and that means that you have the benefit of learning from other parents who have navigated these challenging waters before you.

There's power in your community, and reaching out to other parents of teens with ASD can be beneficial for you in learning what you may expect in the coming years so that you can better prepare. Additionally, having a network of other parents who have traveled the same journey means that you'll always have someone who empathizes with your struggles like few others can.

Don't be afraid to join parent networks and befriend other families in your local community who also have children with ASD. Someday, you'll be the one doling out the advice for parents with younger children on the spectrum.

Make Health a Priority

In 2014 a study from researchers at Kaiser Permanente discovered that many health problems, including mental health issues like depression and physical health issues like obesity, are more common in adults on the autism spectrum than those who aren't. Help your teen start combatting these health issues now by prioritizing healthy eating and exercise.

Of course, picky eating is common among people on the autism spectrum so "eating healthy" is often easier said than done. Work with your child's doctor to get to the bottom of their picky eating and use nutrient supplements when necessary. Helping them develop healthy eating habits now will be a huge benefit to them in the future.

The second half of the equation, exercise, will hopefully be a little easier to tackle. Work with your child to find physical activities that they enjoy. One great option to include in the mix is swimming. It can be calming for people on the autism spectrum and is, of course, an excellent muscle and cardiovascular workout. Find an accessible pool in your area and inquire whether they offer discounted memberships or lifetime memberships for people with disabilities.

Start Thinking About the Transition to Adulthood

Parents often struggle with the idea that their children are growing up and becoming more independent. All parents worry about whether their children will be successful, but parents of teens with ASD may begin to worry about whether their teen will be able to live independently, depending on where your child falls on the spectrum.

As your child enters adolescence, it's a good time to begin thinking about how you can prepare for their future. What services will they require in adulthood? Will they be able to maintain employment? Will they require caregiving services? There are things you can do now to ensure that your child will have access to the services they need even after you are no longer able to oversee their care.

The teenage years are filled with ups and downs for every parent. Parents of teens with ASD must cope with the challenges of managing ASD as their child grows older as well as the typical teenage angst from hormonal changes, challenges with peers, and concern for their child's future. Flexibility is key to adapting to your child's changing needs, and pre-planning for the future will provide the peace of mind of knowing that your child will be taken care of long after you're gone.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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