Tween and Teen Years with Autism

Watching your child grow, mature and change can be bittersweet. Watching this evolution in a child who struggles with ASD or autism, can elicit a whole range of emotions. How will typical teenage rebellion look in someone who struggles with behavioral control? What will middle school and high school be like with a child that not only is dealing with hormonal changes but also the social, emotional and sensory issues common in a child with autism?

Research into autism in the teen years and beyond is still in its infancy: “very little is known about the course of ASD through adolescence and into young adulthood,” according to the Interactive Autism Network.  Autism is a broad spectrum, and adolescence will affect each child differently. If recent studies are an indication, parents generally can expect some of the following positive changes along their child’s road to adulthood:

  • Behavioral improvements across the spectrum. Adults with autism have less hyperactivity and irritability, and fewer repetitive behaviors (such as lining things up) and maladaptive (dysfunctional) behaviors, than children with autism.
  • Improvements in daily living skills – such as getting dressed, keeping track of cash or making a sandwich.

Some negative changes may include:

  • A risk period for the onset of seizures in autism, although most teens do not develop epilepsy. 

  • Childhood sleep problems may persist into adolescence, when insomnia and daytime sleepiness become the biggest concerns. Sleep changes are very common in typical teens but can be exaggerated in children with autism. 

  • Anxiety disorders may increase or develop during the teen years. Be aware of anxiety symptoms and work with team members and therapists to reduce anxiety in the classroom and at home.
  • The gap between the students with autism and their peers widens in something called “executive functioning” during the teen years. Trouble with flexibility, organization, initiating activities and working memory are commonplace with executive functioning disorders that worsen or develop during the teen years.

Further Resources to help your teen in school.

Autism SpeaksHelping Teens with Autism Succeed in High School and Beyond

Psychology TodayThirteen Things Parents of Teens with Autism Need to Know