What role can parents play to address the social needs of children with autism as they enter adolescence?

Autism is defined and diagnosed medically from the characteristic pattern of behaviours. Yet, there are no behaviours that themselves will unequivocally indicate autism. Autism spectrum disorders are all about communication challenges, misunderstanding of social cues and lack of emotional understanding.

Parents of children with autism face many challenges but those challenges become more pronounced during adolescence. The teenagers on the spectrum feel the need to be more independent, just like other teens, but they do not have the means to express their needs and feelings in an appropriate or expected manner. Hence, they seem to be more defiant and aggressive.

During adolescence, when many kinds of social behaviours are developed, individuals with autism can become aware of their relationship difficulties. It is sometimes difficult to tell if young adults with autism are actively withdrawing from people or whether it appears that way because they do not know how to relate to others as they are engaged in self-absorbing activities. Lack of empathy also often results in increasing isolation as they grow older.

Social difficulties are at the heart of autism. Few people with autism make personal friendships of any depth. Some of the more able will have an apparent sexual interest in others but may not have a genuine interest in relationships.

One should bear in mind that many people with autism will not be aware of themselves as sexual beings. Therefore, it is suggested that sex education should centre on dealing with hygiene, safety and privacy only. But problems arise with those who have no interest in others sexually but do have clear sexual needs. Then it is the parents and teachers who should ensure they have means of expressing those needs, while at the same time complying with societal norms.

So how can parents deal with the daunting task of providing their adolescent with more freedom and space? Here are some tips.

* Give them more opportunities to make choices, within parameters.

* Give them the freedom to plan their schedule as to how they want to spend their day.

* It will help if parents arm themselves with important facts about teenage behaviour. This will prevent them from misconstruing certain actions of their teenagers as symptoms of an autistic condition. Remember, every abnormal behaviour is not autism. The struggling young adult needs support from parents and educators to become his own person.

For more information email rajfarida@gmail.com

The writer is a Remedial Educator.

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