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Autism in adolescence

Q: I am working with a child who is diagnosed with autism amd is beginning to go through puberty. I am looking for any and all information on how to approach this.

A:Autism is a life long disorder and about 60% autistic children lead dependent lives. The best outcome for autistic children as they grow up is predicted by a high IQ, attainment of useful speech, appropriate schooling and a nurturant home environment. Autistic adolescents face maximum problem in social interactions and thus may be a butt of jokes in most social settings. The awkwardness is increased since adolescence itself is a period of uncertainity and lack of self esteem. The main areas where an autistic adolescent has problems are - communication, articulation of speech (if he has any), peer relationships, understanding social rules and norms, following sexual code of conduct and fears and phobias. To try and help the child with his social interactions and to make external stimuli simpler for him, you could try the following techniques:

  1. Set goals for him that have a well defined end point. For eg., when asking him to approach a person he knows, he should be told clearly what to say to the person and the tone of voice it should be said in. Any success on his part should be suitably rewarded.
  2. The other person (at least in the beginning) must be asked to be encouraging and responsive towards his overtures so that he is not disheartened.
  3. He should be given instructions explicitly and not merely hinted at, since he has trouble taking hints that most non-disabled people can. For eg., while talking to a peer, if he starts talking uncontrollably, he should be asked to keep quite rather than waiting for him to stop on his own.
  4. If possible, he should be made to take up a small time job depending on his progress and the extent of his disability. Autistic poeple can be good at jobs that require repetitive actions like shelving books in libraries, accounting, factory assembling works etc. Jobs requiring social skills must be avoided.
These are some of the guidelines that may be followed depending on the age of the child, the level of skills already attained by the child and the extent of disability. There are some speciality autism websites that may be of help to you: http://www.feat.org/autism/HarvardAutism.htm http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/disorders/autismshortdoc.htm There also some books which might be of help:
  • K. Meyers & B. Briesman, ed. Children Grow Up: Autism in Adolescents and Adults
  • National Society for Autistic Children. Nowhere to go: a report on the plight of autistic adolescents
  • Eric Schopler & Gary B. Mesibov, ed. Autism in Adolescents and Adults
  • Let Me Hear Your Voice : A Family's Triumph over Autism by Catherine Maurice


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