Growing Up With Autism: Counseling Strategies For Adolescents With ASD

Do you remember the time you were teenagers and so eager to explore the world? Adolescence is a scary yet exciting period of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. We all experience significant changes in our lives. These can be physical, social, or emotional changes. As adolescents, we shape our future selves as we become mature enough to make our own choices.

Knowing how challenging adolescence can be, it is normal for any parent to worry about their teenager. When you have a child with autism, you may feel even more anxious thinking about their future. How will they traverse this complex world? Will they be able to take care of themselves and enjoy life at the same time? The good thing is, counseling for both parents and teens is now available in various forms. 


Adolescence And Autism

Puberty will be a different experience for each person, even for adolescents in the spectrum. It is a time for them to use their strengths and develop the skills they need in life. It is not just about body and hormonal changes for people diagnosed with ASD. Being a teen and preparing for adulthood can be an overwhelming experience. They have to adapt to changes in their routine, environment and demands all at once.

Take a moment to look back at your adolescent days. Most of us will have memories of hanging out with friends and confessing to crushes. Some might even try to earn a few bucks by doing paper routes or babysitting. We spent most days in high school hallways and classrooms thinking about how to pass our subjects. All of these experiences made us the adults we are now. 


What about adolescents with autism? Different counseling strategies are available for common questions parents have, such as:

  • What is it like managing typical teenage rebellion with behavioral issues?
  • Will they understand the importance of personal hygiene or picking out the right clothes?
  • How do you teach grooming like shaving for those with sensory issues?
  • How do teens with social difficulties make friends in high school?
  • Will they be able to navigate in the community alone?
  • Will they be able to take care of themselves?
  • Will they handle adult responsibilities, like housekeeping and managing bills, well?

Social Skills Training

Some teens with autism may have difficulties in social situations. They may find it even more challenging as they need to communicate with unfamiliar people. Examples are ordering from a barista or working on a project in school. Social skills training will help in counseling teens with basic social rules. The counselor will help them develop communication skills, understand social norms, and solve common problems.

Social skills training is done either individually or in a group. Counselors will help teens pick up non-verbal cues. Examples of this include eye contact, body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. This will help them develop social thinking as they see other people’s perspectives. This will also enable them to practice their social skills with the guidance of a counselor or therapist. It may include trips to the grocery store, asking for directions, and the like.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a type of psychotherapy for teens who have difficulty adapting to a situation. This counseling technique focuses on a person’s thoughts and feelings as it affects their behavior. It teaches teens to replace maladaptive thoughts with more positive ones. CBT is a multi-step process usually performed one-on-one with a trained counselor.

The CBT process begins with identifying the negative thoughts affecting a person’s behavior. Some common examples are teens feeling like nobody likes them, and this hinders them from making friends. Counselors may also teach relaxation techniques for anxiety in situations like these. The goal of CBT is to teach conscious and effective coping strategies. These strategies become easier for the patient over time.

Group Activities

As your child becomes older, they develop a sense of autonomy. They form perspectives or opinions different from yours. The generation gap becomes more evident, and suddenly, your teen would rather spend time with their peers than with you. Take this opportunity to engage your child in group counseling and therapy. Under the supervision of a counselor, your teen can model their peer’s behavior. In the presence of others, your teenager may be more motivated to learn and participate.

Group therapy focuses on specific skills and hobbies. One example is learning self-care techniques during puberty. Another example is social skills training. Some group therapies aim to improve siblings or classmate relationships. Exposing your child to different people will help them form their perspectives.

Independent Living Skills Training

It’s impractical to give your full attention and efforts to your child with autism. At some point in time, they will need skills to help them stand on their own. Adolescence is the best period to teach them basic life skills to get them to function on their own. Learning these independent living skills can empower them. This will help them engage in more activities at home and in the community. 

Just like with social skills, adolescents can learn life skills through education and guided practice. These life skills consist of basic activities of daily living, like eating, dressing, bathing, and toileting. Learning more complex activities is also important. Some examples are maintaining the house, handling finances, driving, and walking around the community. They will be guided to do these activities until they can manage by themselves.

Transitioning From School To The Real World Setting

Adolescents attend school to learn knowledge, skills, and behaviors in preparation for the bigger world outside. Not all adolescents learn these things easily like most, so there has to be a solution. Some may need individualized transitioning programs to help them navigate through school, work, and life in general. In particular, adolescents with autism may struggle to socialize with their peers and future colleagues. 

As part of a successful transitioning program, it’s important to start while they are young. One strategy is to have their non-autism-diagnosed peers mediate their interactions. Another strategy is to supervise adolescents with autism to build a peer network with similar interests as them. Adolescents can also be exposed to work and other practices to give them an idea of their future life.