Growing with Autism

Childhood – specific concerns

a. Communication – the ability to communicate is a primary concern in childhood. Although there are a multitude of needs for a child with autism, communicating overall needs and wants and desires his primary.

b. Learning and focus – the ability to focus one’s attention on what’s most important and to keep that attention focused on areas where they can learn, develop, organize and grow and then build so that they can continue to learn is likely second most important.

c. Attention and concentration – in order to learn, the child needs to keep and to focus their attention and to concentrate on the caregiver/teacher that is providing the information. Information in this area needs to be presented in a way that the child can understand and accept it. Often times this information needs to be presented in ways other than spoken language such as through pictures or in physical action rather than spoken language.

d. Behavior – behavior often is an expression of language. Many times a child with autism has no other way of expressing frustration and anger or not understanding a concept other than through his or her behavior. Recognizing their behavior for what it is rather than what they are doing will lead to a better understanding of what they know and what they don’t know. Using the child’s behavior as a guide can often lead to a better presentation of material for the child so that they can eventually recognize and then use the concept that the caregiver/teacher is attempting to present. Typically, behavior is a good guide and evaluating the success or efficacy of new information.

Adolescence

In adolescence, change often affects everything. It had often been noted that the adolescent had felt “safe” in school classes, due to the structure and predictability until that is adolescence began where they can at times they perceived and or began being bullied, taken advantage of or severely teased. During periods of adolescence many things change, even their own bodies. That is to say during adolescence hormonal changes in their own bodies create physical changes to their bodies which if they are not prepared for may come as a shock to them. Additionally, interpersonal changes with peers sometimes lead to misunderstandings with here-to-for friendly similar age peers whom they may have considered as friendly but who may be acting differently in which the adolescent with autism doesn’t understand why they are acting differently, i.e. pre-courtship teasing between have female and male peer.

a. Communication - during adolescence communication continues to be a concern, however now additional concern is raised due to slang being added to the overall vocabulary where the teen with autism attempts to understand what something means or how to (concretely) use or do what was expressed.

b. Learning - learning issues are also a concern, for it is at this time that areas of academic strengths stand out, such as mathematics or languages and these need to be supported despite other areas which may require support (including learning support) (the need for a gifted and learning support IEP in some cases for example).

c. Social behavior - social behaviors in adolescence are and struggle for many adolescent teens. Often times teens in the autism spectrum struggle in part because they recognize they may be different then there neurotypical counterparts and issues of anxiety or depression may begin to emerge (without clear vegetative signs and symptoms) and they are often uncertain on who they should model their behaviors after in order to imitate appropriate social behaviors.

d. Mood, anxiety, friendship development - as social behaviors become more and more of a struggle, more severe issues of anxiety and depression develop, lack of friendship issues become somewhat more severe and more diagnostic issues requiring clinical intervention become required for issues of depression and anxiety.

e. Social withdrawal - at times issues of depression and anxiety in particular become so severe coupled with peer bullying behaviors often seen either blatantly in school or through more subtle forms of bullying behavior often not recognized within classrooms or in conventional learning settings which leads to social withdrawal by many in the autism spectrum.

f. Human sexuality issues - although having an autism spectrum diagnosis, adolescence still appear to develop typical interest in human sexuality. They do not however appear to have the social language to seek out questions that they may have to better understand or resolve their questions or the feelings they may have. Further, they may model their behaviors after individuals who may not have their best interest at hand, following the direction of a “designing other”, one who seeks to set-up the teen with autism as a form of bullying behavior..

g. Criminal justice concerns – at times, individuals in the autism spectrum may find themselves at risk by following more severe forms of “designing others”, that is, individuals who may be attempting to take advantage of the individual with autism by having them “earn the right of their friendship” by committing a crime or doing some other unacceptable action in order to be a part of some sort of social group. A small group of individuals in the autism spectrum appear to find themselves involved in criminal justice situations and when this occurs often appear not to know what to do or how to defend themselves.

Adulthood

As the individual with autism reaches adulthood, that is the time when secondary education is completed, learning still seems to continue to occur. In some instances for example, it would appear that information processing may still be processing quicker or more efficiently as they grow older making it appear as if they are somehow brighter than when they were younger. Additionally, particularly with those individuals who are considered “higher functioning”, that is those individuals whose language appears relatively unaffected and whose overall intelligence is sufficient enough to obtain gainful employment there appears to be an expectation when there are problems that those individuals “should know better” or “should have known better” despite the fact that they may never have been taught how to do certain things. In adulthood, new behaviors, even behaviors or tasks that are similar to others need to be taught as if they are new, one needs to remember that autism is a lifelong developmental disability.

a. Learning - as noted above, learning is lifelong and each new task needs to be taught as a new task or job or behavior.

b. Vocational - many vocations or jobs can be taught, but each likely needs to be taught in a step-by-step method and there can be no expectation, at least at the start that the individual can generalize from previous learning.

c. Social behavior - in a similar sense to social behavior as an adolescent, the adult with autism often struggles finding appropriate adult role models to model after appropriate or acceptable ways to do myriads of routine behaviors in their new social world. Without appropriate adult role models, many may find themselves either living with her biological parents or isolating themselves in their own apartment staying essentially by themselves.

d. Mood, anxiety, companionship-friendship – those adults with autism who have not developed many similar age friendships and who have found themselves more isolated, may develop issues and concerns with depression and anxiety requiring formal treatment by professionals (if such professionals can be found – professionals who work with adults in the autism spectrum). Those however who have in fact developed a neurotypical friend or friends typically seemed to lead lives that parallel neurotypical counterparts.

e. Human sexuality/marriage/family – it is possible for adults with autism to marry, and have children. It is not uncommon for adults with autism though to see counselors – marriage or family counselors not due to specific types of problems, but more for assistance on how to navigate issues in marriage related to problem-solving, areas of intimacy, and future planning. Couples counseling where one of the partners is in the autism spectrum appears not to be a common practice, though specialist who provide this service help both partners navigate routine as well as complicated marriage and family-related issues that many neurotypical couples travel through on their own both successfully and unsuccessfully. It is recommended that couples where one of the individuals is in the autism spectrum consider seeking possible help from a counselor who is familiar with working with specialists counselors be considered.

f. Criminal justice concerns - as adults, any action involved in the criminal justice peer is of concern as it is a permanent record. An individual who is over the age of 18 and is considered “competent” (unless legally noted otherwise), and is considered responsible for the actions they have done or committed. That is to say, just because one has an autism spectrum disorder doesn’t mean that they are not responsible for their actions and as a result they may end up in a criminal justice setting because of what they may have done. Unfortunately, individuals with an autism spectrum disorder are not always the best of individuals in defending themselves. At times they may in a matter of fact way say that they are or are not guilty of a given crime and provide no other explanation. They may not speculate on any alternative to a given situation which at times may make it appear as if they are even guiltier of a given crime then it may otherwise seem, leading to their arrest, too often this has been the case and the individual with autism is too often unable to meaningfully defend themselves.