ASD Tip of the Month

2021-2022 Archive

Raising and educating adolescents with ASD and other disabilities offers many joys and gifts. They can be affectionate, inquisitive, fun, and loving. But, adolescents with ASD and other disabilities can also face additional challenges associated with puberty as compared to their typically developing peers. They may face challenges including fewer friends, fewer opportunities for friendships and lower participation in social and recreational activities. The Tips of the Month for 2021-2022 will help support the social and emotional well-being of adolescents with ASD and other disabilities.

The OCALI Lending Library has many resources to support adolescents on these various topics. Here are a few to explore:

  • Taking Care of Myself: A Hygiene, Puberty & Personal Curriculum for Young People by Wrobel, M.
  • What's Happening to Tom?: A Book About Puberty for Boys and Young Men with Autism and Related Conditions by Reynolds, Kate E.
  • What's Happening to Ellie?: A Book About Puberty for Girls and Young Women with Autism and Related Conditions by Reynolds, Kate E.
  • Autism, Asperger's, and Sexuality: Puberty and Beyond by Newport, J., & Newport, M.
  • Lucky Dogs, Lost Hats, and Dating Don'ts: Hi-Lo Stories about Real Life by Fish, Thomas R.
  • The Facts of Life....and More: Sexuality and Intimacy for People with Intellectual Disabilities by Walker-Hirsch, L., ed.

Additional materials available in the OCALI Lending Library.

Check out these additional OCALI resources to learn more about supporting adolescence.


Understanding and Communicating with Adolescents

Adolescents with ASD and other disabilities are often excellent communicators both verbally and non-verbally. But, these communications may present challenges for both families and professionals as compared to typical peers A wide range of challenges can include limited language to excessive talking, limited eye contact and poor reciprocal conversation, as well as limited conversation topics, which can prevent the individual from having successful social interactions with both adults and peers. The following tips provide ideas on how to interact with adolescents with ASD and other disabilities.

  • Focus on strengths, not challenges. It is easy to identify the challenges of an adolescent or young adult. However, focusing on their strengths creates a foundation to build skills and confidence.
  • Learn to listen. Although we can speak at a rate of 125 words per minute, we can listen at a rate of 400 words per minute. Before responding when your adolescent or young adult is talking, listen to all their words. Instead of making judgments, try asking questions. Questions will help to clarify their thoughts and give you the opportunity to respond accurately and appropriately.
  • Think before reacting. Adolescents and young adults often will say things for shock value. They may carefully watch your reactions and then respond to your reactions, often in an inappropriate manner. Keeping calm can defuse a potentially heightened reaction. To help think before reacting, provide wait time after asking a question to allow the individual to process the information, and then come up with a response.
  • Be positive and reinforce. Positive communication and reinforcement can be an effective way to interact with adolescents and young adults. Instead of asking questions like “What is wrong with you?” or “I can’t believe you did (or said) that”, find out what is driving the behavior. When redirecting the individual, use ‘what to do’ words (paired with visual supports) to be sure the individual understands what to do.


Promoting and Supporting Hygiene

Good hygiene for teens supports self confidence and positive social interactions.. Adolescents often have varying attitudes about personal hygiene, and trying to emphasize its importance in maintaining optimal health can be difficult. Beyond health, hygiene affects social relationships, dating, and vocational opportunities. Here are some tips to help adolescents understand the importance of personal hygiene:

  • Talk about it! Discuss the importance of good hygiene and how it relates to wellness by presenting information in small chunks. Use visuals to support a clearer understanding and always be ready to answer questions honestly.
  • Break it down! Prioritize which hygiene skills to prioritize. For example, brushing teeth may be the first skill to teach. Practice the steps for brushing teeth until the adolescent masters how to brush their teeth. Then follow up with bathing, followed by washing hair, etc.
  • Use modeling! Be sure that good hygiene is modeled by peers, siblings, and adults in-person or using video modeling. Invite your adolescent into the bathroom when you are brushing your teeth, washing your hair, etc.
  • Provide choices! Create a hygiene kit. Involve the adolescent in picking out toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, etc. The kit is labeled and is only used the by the adolescent. If needed, provide a visual support on how to access the items in the hygiene kit.
  • Use visuals! Utilize social narratives to prepare the adolescent on why it is important to maintain good personal hygiene.


Encouraging Self-Care

Learning to focus on your own needs, especially emotional ones, is a great life skill. Adolescents with ASD and other disabilities may experience stress, anxiousness, depression, and/or isolation. They may focus on specific events in their life and not understand what to do when they are feeling uncomfortable. Providing the following tips will help the adolescent learn to manage the events in their life that affect their mental health:

  • Carve out time every day to engage in self-care activities.
  • Download an app with short meditations for teens.
  • Engage in yoga activities that involve stretching, flexibility, and breathing exercises.
  • Provide some form of exercise. Daily walks, preferably outside, will improve strength, endurance, and some aerobic activity. Being outside also provides fresh air and a change of scenery.
  • Create a consistent sleep schedule, ‘unplug’ the bedroom, and create some wind down routines prior to bedtime.
  • Engage in activities that are of interest to the adolescent. For example, if the individual loves to draw, paint, read, listen to music, or write in a journal, utilize time daily to engage in those activities.
  • For at least part of the day, turn off cell phones and other devices. Prepare the adolescent both verbally and/or visually when it is time to turn off their cell phone and other devices. Provide ‘what to do’ activities (walking, exercise, yoga etc.) during the time their cell phone/other devices are turned off.


Addressing Issues of Sexuality

It is important to keep an open mind about the social and emotional development of adolescents during puberty. As a family member or a professional, you may notice changes in the way the adolescent interacts with family, friends, and peers. These changes are crucial for developing independence and preparing for adulthood. With these changes may come issues with monitoring and expressing feelings, mood swings, increased arguments, and even antisocial and risk-taking behavior. Tips to help support your adolescent are as follows:

  • Use teachable moments that arise in daily life, such as marriage or pregnancy, to explain what is happening. Don’t be afraid or feel uncomfortable when a question comes up about sexuality.
  • Prepare for puberty by using the correct names of body parts and physical changes (ex: menstruation)
  • Teach the adolescent how to take care of basic body needs (ex: showering/bathing, shampooing hair, brushing teeth etc.)
  • Teach that there are private and public behaviors. Certain private behaviors are only done at home in the adolescent’s bedroom and never done in public.
  • Honestly answer their questions. Acknowledge and value the adolescent’s feelings and experience.
  • If needed, provide visual supports and review and repeat information more than once.