Most experts do a great job of presenting the problems children with Asperger Syndrome face during their adolescent years. Yet, here are a few tips and suggestions to help guide parents. This is a two-part article.
Part 1 presents problems. Part 2 gives suggestions that have worked for parents of teens with Asperger Syndrome. Click here for Part 2 – Solutions
Problems Teens With Asperger Syndrome Often Face
Diane Kennedy, in her 2002 book The ADHD Autism Connection, writes that the years from twelve to seventeen are “the saddest and most difficult time” for people with Asperger Syndrome. This is not true of every teen with Asperger Syndrome. Some do extremely well. Their indifference to what others think makes them indifferent to the intense peer pressure of adolescence. They can flourish within their specialty, and become accomplished musicians, historians, mathematicians, etc.
Yet, as Kennedy observes, Aspie teens typically become more isolated socially during a period when they crave friendships and inclusion more than ever. In the cruel world of middle and high school, Aspies often face rejection, isolation and bullying.
Meanwhile, school becomes more demanding in a period when they have to compete for college placements. Issues of sexuality and a desire for independence from parents create even more problems.
Social Isolation:In the teenage world where everyone feels insecure, teens that appear different are voted off the island. Aspies often have odd mannerisms. One teen talks in a loud unmodulated voice, avoids eye contact, interrupts others, violates their physical space, and steers the conversation to her favorite odd topic. Another appears willful, selfish and aloof, mostly because he is unable to share his thoughts and feelings with others. Isolated and alone, many Aspies are too anxious to initiate social contact.
Many Aspie teens are stiff and rule-oriented and act like little adults, which is a deadly trait in any teenage popularity contest. Friendship and all its nuances of reciprocity can be exhausting for an Aspie, even though she wants it more than anything else. One girl ended a close friendship with this note: “Your expectations exhaust me. The phone calls, the girl talks, all your feelings…it’s just too much for me. I can’t take it anymore.”
Inability to “Be a Teen”: An Aspie typically does not care about teen fads and clothing styles — concerns that obsess everyone else in their peer group. Aspies may neglect their hygiene and wear the same haircut for years. Boys forget to shave; girls don’t comb their hair or follow fashion.
Some Aspies remain stuck in a grammar school clothes and hobbies such as unicorns and Legos, instead of moving into adolescent concerns like social media and dating. Aspie boys often have no motor coordination. This leaves them out of high school sports, typically an essential area of male bonding and friendship.
Sexual Issues: Aspie teens are not privy to street knowledge of sex and dating behaviors that other teens pick up naturally. This leaves them naive and clueless about sex. Boys can become obsessed with Internet pornography and masturbation. They can be overly forward with a girl who is merely being kind, and then later face charges of stalking her. An Aspie teen may have a fully developed female body and no understanding of flirtation and non-verbal sexual cues, making her susceptible to harassment and even date rape.
Criminal Activity: Pain, loneliness and despair can lead to problems with drugs, sex and alcohol. In their overwhelming need to fit in and make friends, some Aspies fall into the wrong high school crowds. Teens who abuse substances will use the Aspie’s naivety to get him to buy or carry drugs and liquor for their group.
If cornered by a police officer, an Aspie usually does not have the skill to answer the officer’s questions appropriately. For example, if the officer says, “Do you know how fast you were driving?” an Aspie may reply bluntly, “Yes,” and thus appears to be a smart-aleck.
School Failures: Many Aspies with their average to above average IQs can sail through grammar school, and yet hit academic problems in middle and high school. They now have to deal with four to six teachers, instead of just one. The likelihood that at least one teacher will be indifferent or even hostile toward making special accommodations is certain. The Aspie student now has to face a series of classroom environments with different classmates, odors, distractions and noise levels, and sets of expectations.
Aspies with their distractibility and difficulty organizing materials face similar academic problems as students with Attention Deficit Disorder. A high school term paper or a science fair project becomes impossible to manage because no one has taught the Aspie how to break it up into a series of small steps. Even though the academic stress on an Aspie teen can be overwhelming, school administrators may be reluctant to enroll him in special education at this late point in his educational career.
Depression and Acting Out: The teenage years are more emotional for everyone. Yet the hormonal changes of adolescence coupled with the problems outlined above might mean that an Aspie teen becomes emotionally overwhelmed. Childish tantrums reappear. Boys often act up by physically attacking a teacher or peer. They may experience “melt down” at home after another day filled with harassment, bullying, pressure to conform, and rejection. Suicide and drug addiction become real concerns, as the teen now has access to cars, drugs and alcohol.
The “saddest and most difficult time” can overwhelm not only the Aspie teen, but also his family.
Below is a video with Asperger expert Robiyn Mims detailing how to help a struggling teen, and why summer camp is a great option for your child.
Bashe, Patricia and Barbara Kirby. The Oasis Guide to Asperger Syndrome. New York: Crown Publishers, 2005.
Kennedy, Diane. ADHD Autism Connection. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2002.
Myles, Brenda and Jack Southwick. Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing, 1999.
Powers, Michael. Children with Autism. Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000.
Sohn, Alan and Cathy Grayson. Parenting Your Asperger Child. New York: Perigee Books, 2005.