Growing Up: Food for thought
“To live will be an awfully big adventure.”
~ Peter Pan
.. And what an adventure it would be!
Sooner or later, we have to face it. Our kids are growing up!! As much as we would want their lives to be filled with the best adventures possible, there are some things we need to consider in terms of setting them up for their next phases of life. Here are some factors to think about surrounding the topic of kids becoming teens, growing up with autism.
As most of you may already know, children with autism developing into teens may not necessarily or naturally leave certain child-like interests and favourites behind. This is not bad news, but it can be an opportunity to take advantage of in terms of developing their interests in age-appropriate play or hobbies. It can be a lot of effort to get them interested in new things, but it will benefit them in the long run. Having them interested in things that teens their age are interested in can help to reduce stigma and make them a little more relatable to typically-developing teens, facilitating social interaction and friendships.
Try a 'Pairing' technique to work towards developing their interests in new things. For example, if your teen is still into nursery rhymes, play nursery rhymes in the background while you're working to develop his/her interest is something new. This can reduce the aversiveness of the new activity/item by having a preferred element paired. Slowly, you can shorten the duration of the pairing and eventually work towards not needing to pair at all!
2. Coming of age
A topic that can be daunting for many parents, and a challenge in the home setting. For teens with autism, it is most often difficult for them to understand the changes their bodies go through. Emotionally as well, they struggle to regulate. This can result in behaviour that is new, and sometimes, problematic. We need to make it a point to notice patterns in behaviour (if any) and how they may/may not correspond with timing.
The concept of 'private' vs. 'public' can be valuable to incorporate into teaching. This is so the teen is able to discriminate these settings and the corresponding behaviours appropriately. Teach as many examples of private and public places as possible so that the concept is clear!
3. Personal hygiene
This is a big topic to address, as the skills necessary range widely! As a first step, consider if your child is meeting the developmental milestones for self-care. Do you find yourself as a parent having to give a lot of guidance and hands-on assistance for self-care tasks such as brushing teeth and showering? If so, this may be something worth looking in to, to push for independence.
A simple 'chaining' procedure can help with this. First, identify the steps necessary to complete the task. Then, give your child full assistance for all the steps, but the last one. Have him/her try that step independently as you instruct. Then, once this is consistent, do the same for the second last step onwards, the third last, and so on till all steps are being performed independently!
4. Establishing boundaries
As the child progresses into the teens, some boundaries set can help with increasing age-appropriate behaviour. As kids who enjoy affectionate and physical contact like hugs grow into teens, it is very likely that they will still enjoy this. Of course it is still ok to give your teens hugs and kisses, but as long as it is clear that only certain people can receive and give them those hugs and kisses! Sometimes, the lines can be blurred and either way, if the teen is giving or receiving hugs and kisses, this can foster vulnerable situations.
One approach could be teaching a teen the concept of 'family'. This is for the purpose of understanding who can partake in more affectionate behaviours, and therefore, who cannot. As the teen learns this concept, it will be more clear that people who are not included in the certain category of people should not be overly affectionate or physical in their interactions with the teen, and/or vice versa. Teaching this concept of people categorisation can prevent anything untoward and protect the teen.
Lastly, promote independence in as many areas as possible! Especially within their day-to day routines. Independence also works to maintain attention and focus, because the teen would have to complete a task without help. As much as we would like to provide the security and assurance wherever we can, independence is a key component of getting older.
Start by picking very simple tasks that you know your child is able to complete. Then, have him/her complete a task without assistance. End this with a reward for good independent behaviour! This can be from the very routine tasks that are done every day (e.g. setting the table, making the bed, packing a bag, etc). You would want to first be close by to supervise, then slowly increase your distance till you are confident you can just check and reward the finished product! ;)