Living With Autism: Worried your teen won’t catch up socially with their peers? Don’t be.

Living with Autism: Worried your teen won’t socially catch up with their peers? Our daughter was diagnosed with high functioning autism at around five years old. She has been clinically at about a third of her age emotionally and socially. She is now 17 and she is still around a 13 year old’s age level when it comes to those two things.

And that’s okay.

I used to stress myself out for years thinking we should be doing something to get her caught up. Thinking we were doing something wrong. We weren’t doing enough. The thing is, I was stressing over nothing. It may sound like an odd thing to say because it may seem like it’s something you should push for, but it’s really not something that needs to be pushed. So again…

Are you worried your teen won’t socially catch up with their peers?

Don’t be.

Our daughter still watches cartoons. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with cartoons. Even I watch Finneas and Ferb. Quite often even. But when I say she watches cartoons, I mean she watches some cartoons that are quite a bit young for her age. But that’s okay. There’s no harm in it.

Our daughter also still plays with toys. She still plays with Monster High Dolls, My Little Pony and a few other things. But she also likes to read. The girl has three big bookshelves in her room completely filled with books. She’s a very avid reader. At least when it comes to reading, she does read age appropriate books. She has other hobbies as well. She loves art. She’s really good at drawing and painting. She also likes to weave. She makes scarves, hats, and even socks. She’s got quite the yarn collection.

Even though she may act and do things that are socially too young for her, she also has a lot of great age appropriate hobbies mixed in there. So what would be the point in pushing her away from the other things? I don’t want to tell her she shouldn’t watch toddler shows or stop playing with toys because she’s too big for them. I also don’t want to tell her she should stop doing these things because she should act her age. That kind of message just doesn’t sit right with me. All teens can develop self esteem issues as it is.

Clothes

There are some things that we kind of try to steer her in another direction on. One thing is the way she dresses. For example, if she wanted to wear shirts that featured My Little Pony, I steered her toward graphic tees that had My Little Pony for adults. She really likes those tees. She’s got a lot of shirts like that with different cartoon-like characters. The only reason I did that was because I was afraid of bullying. She still wears the characters she wants without looking like she’s wearing something an elementary kid would wear in high school.

She picks out her own clothes when we shop for new ones that fit her own personal style. In a way I kind of like this because there are some teen girls out there wearing things they probably shouldn’t. 

Hygiene

The other thing we have to help her keep on track with is hygiene. She doesn’t have a problem with showering or brushing her teeth. Never have to tell her or remind her. But when it comes to brushing her hair, that’s another story. She likes to keep her hair short so she doesn’t have to do anything with it. She just pins the sides back away from her face and that’s that. Pinning her hair back with little bows is her thing. I do have to remind her to brush her hair often. That’s as far as it goes though. She can grow into the fixing of the hair and makeup on her own time. If she ever does.

I have to leave a note on the bathroom mirror to remind her to put on deodorant.

Making Friends

Our daughter has friends. But not in the way we had friends. Or the way her 13 or even 9 year old brother has them. Her brothers talk to their friends on the phone or go hang out at their house. Or their buddies come over to our house. Sometimes our 13 year old will go do something with his friends like hang out at the mall for a couple hours. She doesn’t do that. I used to think that would hurt her in the long run but it really doesn’t.

People on the autism spectrum are particularly prone to atypical social dynamics. It’s more important to know how she feels about how her social life is. She has no interest what-so ever in talking on the phone, she actually hates it. She’s a very like-able person and has a few girls she talks to at school. She sits with them at lunch and there is always one or two kids she talks to in each of her classes. As far as friends go, that’s as far as it goes. She’s happy and content with her social life and the way things are. Do I wish it was more than that? Of course I do. But we can’t make friends for her.

There are ways to help with social strategies

Our daughter has been going to counseling and other therapy sessions for over 10 years now. Working with them we have learned how to use role-play techniques, how to use social stories, use pictures and prompt cards to keep a conversation going, and a few other things. We have also gotten her in a few different social groups over the years. Some were for kids with ASD in the same age group and others were not. Some were reading groups at the library or art groups. You can search up how to use these social strategies and how they can help. Some of them have helped greatly. For as limited as our daughter is now at making friends, it used to be much harder. 

Potential Bullying

After everything that I have written, I wanted to write a little about potential bullying. Our daughter can’t read body language or facial expressions well. Sometimes she doesn’t pick up on sarcasm. She takes most things that are said literally. Sometimes she might think someone is being mean when they are not while other times she doesn’t know someone is actually being mean. Because of all these things and everything I have mentioned and talked about in this post, there is a chance bullying can occur. And you all know bullying can happen whether it’s a child with ASD or not.

One of the things therapy has helped her with is this. They have used drama before. Acting things out so she could actually see what different things looked like. Body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc.

Mentor/Buddy System

This is something you might want to look into at your child’s school. At our kids’ school district including high school, they have a mentoring/buddy system. The mentors or “buddies” are other students in the same grade. The school paired our daughter up with one a couple years ago. Her mentor was another girl that helped her through the hallways around the other students. It was someone she could talk to and help her if any social needs arose.

Make sure to keep communication open with your child’s school. As far as we know, our daughter has never been bullied. I do believe one thing that has been really helpful is that our district is actually pretty small. She has gone to school with all these kids since Kindergarten. So they know her. And the school has always made it a point to share and teach the other students in her class about ASD starting in elementary school. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Are you worried your teen won’t catch up to their peers?

Don’t be.

It might be scary, and I know that’s true but try to relax.

Let them grow into their teen years at their own pace.

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