There are many preconceived notions about what autism looks like, but an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can actually range from the mildest impairment to more severe limitations for adolescents. Working with teens with ASD can be both rewarding and challenging. Finding success involves learning the strategies that work for each unique child.
Challenges Teens With Autism Spectrum Disorder Face
Teens who are neurodivergent and diagnosed with ASD can face many challenges. Those considered “high functioning” may appear to be “typical” adolescents. However, the symptoms of their ASD can make them stand out. They may be teased or bullied for behaviors that are not within their awareness or control. Many of these symptoms are social, while others involve restrictive or repetitive behaviors like dietary preferences or sensitivity to certain stimuli.
Teens whose ASD symptoms are more obvious may also be teased or bullied because their behaviors are not considered socially acceptable. These may include behaviors such as echolalia (repetition of words), becoming easily upset or angered with transitions or changes in routine, or speaking in a flat or robotic voice without emotion. These symptoms are difficult to even bring awareness to, much less change, leaving many teens with ASD isolated socially.
More specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified some of the most common challenges facing teens and young adults with ASD, which include:
- High rates of unemployment or underemployment
- Low participation in post-high school education
- Typically live with family members or relatives
- Nearly 40% spend little or no time with friends and have limited community and social interaction
This data indicates the need to address specific areas of life and social skills with ASD teens to improve their quality of life outcomes.
Rewards of Working With Teens With ASD Diagnoses
There are many positives to working with adolescents with ASD diagnoses. High intelligence is common with ASD, and these teens bring insights into therapy that are refreshing and unique. Whereas many teens struggle to identify what is bothering them, teens with ASD can often tell you exactly what is bringing them distress and what they do and do not like.
Contrary to popular belief, many teens with ASD have a remarkable sense of humor and can create strong emotional bonds. While they often do not express themselves in typical ways or respond to social cues in the way you might expect, they are often very astute and aware of the emotions of others.
How Working With ASD Teens Can Be Challenging
Working with teens with ASD can be challenging because they can appear stubborn due to their repetitive and restrictive behaviors. Many become easily angered or aggressive and struggle with change. For example, simply changing the format, location, or day of the week of your appointments with them can create an emotional outburst or meltdown. Consistency is more than important to them—it’s imperative; they can struggle when there is any change.
Whereas teens without a neurodivergent mind may be flexible and open to new ideas, teens with ASD take more patience and time to introduce new ways of thinking and accept new routines. Academically, they may continue to struggle with certain assignments that may simply be beyond their comprehension or capability to understand or complete.
Finding Individual Strategies for Success
As with other neurodivergent conditions, ASD teens are unique and require an individualized approach when seeking strategies for success. Whether it be strategies for school, home, or social success, each adolescent will have their own specific criteria for finding strategies that work for them. Learning many strategies that have worked for others helps give you tools to draw from, but you will find that you may need to tweak these techniques and modify them for each individual to be successful.
Empowering Teens With ASD Diagnoses to Find Their Own Strategies
One of the benefits of working with teens with ASD diagnoses is that their intelligence allows them to learn and find their own strategies. Once you have introduced them to strategies to help them resolve their challenges, they can be empowered to problem solve and resolve their own challenges with strategies that work for them.
For example, if they are struggling to find academic success in a particular class because of a particular instructor or their teaching methods, challenge the ASD teen to look at what is not working and find a strategy to help them succeed. Often, with a little guidance, they can identify a solution on their own and develop a strategy that works for them. By empowering them to find their own strategies, you give them the tools they need to overcome some of the challenges they face with ASD.
The challenges of working with adolescents with an ASD diagnosis may sometimes be overwhelming, but there are also many rewards. Learning more about the unique qualities and challenges of each individual can help them discover individualized strategies to help them be more successful in life. Empowering them to learn to find their own strategies will help them learn to overcome their challenges now and moving forward. Sustain Recovery is an extended residential treatment program for teens with addiction and mental health diagnoses, including neurodivergent teens. We offer a structured environment to help them learn more about themselves and transition gradually back into their home environment. We connect them with people and resources to continue their recovery process to ensure the opportunity for long-term success in recovery. Contact Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is right for your client.