Raising a teen isn’t easy.
As parents, we do our best to instill all the positive values and expose our kids to everything we think they need to know about growing into adulthood. We offer guidance when it comes to like finding a job, living independently, and hopefully finding what our kids are passionate about discovering hobbies and passions. My son— who is on the autism spectrum— turns 15 this year, prompting me to think even more about him becoming a young adult. The biggest hurdle for many of us who travel this autism road is thinking about how our kids will transition into adulthood and wondering if independent living will ever become a reality.
Transitioning into the teen years can be difficult for any child, but factor autism into the equation and parents may worry about how the physical and hormonal changes of adolescence will affect their child on the spectrum. How will teenage rebellion look in someone who already struggles with behavioral control? What will it be like traversing the social minefield of high school for someone with a social disability? The average teen parent is likely to struggle with convincing their child of the need for daily showers and shaving. But, how do you convince someone who has sensory problems to stand underwater or drag a sharp razor across his face?
According to the research, I continue to sift through, teens with autism mature at a slower pace in executive skills than typical teens. They may have particular trouble with flexibility, organization, initiating activities, and working memory. People use executive skills when they make plans, keep track of time, remember past experiences and relate them to the present, change course if they hit a roadblock, ask for help, maintain self-control, and work successfully in a group. Something as mundane as food shopping requires multiple executive skills.
Knowing all of this as a parent, I continue to struggle with knowing how my son will adapt to the world and how will the world adapt to him. I continue to try and leverage every resource available and prepare him for the future. One of the best things my son has been involved in this past year is participation in a social group for teens on the spectrum. This is a group guided by a professional counselor at Moxy Up, which provides guidance on how to interact socially, address social challenges, and discuss how to build meaningful relationships among peers. Socialization isn’t just an important part of human connection, it is also important for my son’s ability to adapt and be part of the workforce someday.
Because it is Autism Awareness month, I take this opportunity to remind our community there are several organizations that can provide support or get you to the appropriate provider if you have a teen, adult, or young small child on the spectrum. Family Support Council, Moxy Up, and the Aktion Club are just a few in Douglas County. Family Support Council will be hosting its second annual Autism Resource Fair on April 15, 2023 where many community providers will join together to provide support and allow for individuals and caretakers to preview all the community resources available to them at one event. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office will also have its autism car on location and will be taking sign-ups for the Autism Recognition Alert Program. To learn more about that program, contact the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
As a parent with a child on the spectrum, it is important to remember there will be good days, and there will be bad days. People with a child on the spectrum need to find a tribe, a support system, and a network of individuals who will share both the milestones and the setbacks with you. Life on the spectrum isn’t always easy, but it can be a shared path of experiences we all share in acceptance and love.
Melissa Elges is the mother of a teen on the Spectrum and Autism Advocate