[ By AdelC ]
In the blink of an eye, my little ASD boy is not so ‘little’ anymore. Now, a grown teenager, he is years away from the young, impressionable boy who used to listen to, and dutifully follow what I have to say.
Looking back, I remember subconsciously wanting to make him ‘look young and small’ all the time so that we would not have to deal with the inevitable social awkwardness, especially when it came to correcting his behaviour in public. Surprisingly though, when he finally surpassed me in height, I felt a huge and unexpected sense of achievement. All those years of conflicted feelings and wanting him to ‘stay small’ instantaneously melted away, replaced by an immense pride knowing that I have, to the best of my abilities, brought up a young man, whom I used to worry so much about.
In a heart-warming turn of events, I can now rest comfortably on his shoulders and he too, will sometimes put his arms around me – it’s these little moments that give me the warm and fuzzies, making all the years of sacrifices blur in comparison. Unconditional love aside, this doesn’t mean the challenges are not still there. Our reality in this lifetime, especially as parents, means we will continue to face challenges not only with our kids with special needs but also with our neurotypical children, wouldn’t you agree?
“Habit And Behaviours”
As my teenage son grows taller and bigger – while I’m growing older (sigh!) – the challenges that I face do not get easier. To be honest, nobody has truthfully told or warned me anything about dealing with adolescence and autism, or given me a heads up on what I can expect from my experience. That said, even if someone did, I believe as with humans, all ASD children are different. Every child has their different set of challenges, behaviours and levels of maturity. But one thing I’m pretty sure of, is that no teenagers are getting more non-compliant as a result of their autism worsening. Like other kids, this just boils down to them being teenagers! My son is now more daring in expressing what he wants. But sadly, his understanding of wanting something and being in control does not come without ticking others off because these skills just do not come naturally to him. Hence, his attempt to master his desires, wants, anxiety and fear by using his own strategies of taking some control tends to backfire at times.
Straight up, I do not think it is right to just let him have his way all the time (that includes stimming as well). Personally, I am not the kind of parent or mother who allows my ASD boy to cultivate unacceptable habits. But of course, certain things are easier said than done – I too, have a hard time managing and dealing with his bad habits and obsessions. No matter how much I intervene, the problems still persist. Sometimes I let them slide because I believe everyone should have some freedom of choice – even and especially important for special needs individuals too! And to be fair, we really cannot be expecting them to do what we deem is ‘right’ all the time.
Other times, I keep reminding, enforcing, redirecting and rewarding good behaviour as a way to motivate him. Because he has good receptive skills, I will routinely remind him that nobody in this world will endure his bad behaviour except for his Daddy and Mummy, so who does he think would want to live with him when we’re no longer around? And oh, trust me, I use this phrase pretty often to make sure I get the message across!
I am thankful that my teenage boy is academically smart; he ‘gets it’ when the right concept and method is being taught on a one-to-one basis. I often think that he has the potential to be a pretty capable all-rounder ‘IF’ he was a neurotypical child. He is a fine young man who could do well in his studies while also excelling in sports and music. But the reality is, he is a typical ASD teenager, not even an Asperger. After teaching and observing him for so many years, I believe what will genuinely make him survive and be happy in his life, is a set of executive skills that are relevant, practical and useful, which he can apply across different situations. And I don’t mean a college degree – absolutely not!
Executive skills are valuable for planning, keeping track of time, remembering past experiences and relating them to the present. These skills are also useful when it comes to the need for changing courses if they hit a roadblock, asking for help, maintaining self-control and working successfully in a group. Something as mundane as shopping for groceries also requires executive skills. These skills are extremely important and useful because with them, he will be able to plan and make a list of items he needs, how many meals he needs to make and how much money he has to pay the cashier.
Firstly, he needs to know how to travel, and to which grocery store. Once he’s there, he will need to know where to look for the items on his list and if they’ve run out of apples, he needs to have the cognitive flexibility to think, ‘instead of apples to make juice, I will get oranges.’ He will then need his working memory to help him keep track of the items he has purchased. This is only one of the many situations that he will encounter on a weekly basis. Hence, I need to make sure he covers all three levels of pre-vocational and vocational studying at BC with a job coach (who will most probably be myself!) before I am truly confident to say that he’s graduated with a set of executive skills that will enable him to live his daily life as a functional person, to the best that he can.
Contrary to the belief, this is a topic that had me worried the least, although it is undeniable that it is still an important area that I would not take it for granted just because he has good receptive skills and is able to understand what I am trying to relate to him so far.
It is so critical for us to help our children make a smooth transition to adulthood without the elevated stress and psychological toll during their sexual development stages. Honestly, I wish someone could develop an effective education program for autistic youths, which addresses what these teenagers’ intimate experiences are and the ways in which they can best learn about the topics of sex and relationship.
My son is aware that his body is changing for a good reason, and I know he is not complaining. He loves it when we compare our heights, he experiments with his lower-pitched voice and he notices the growth of hair on his privates. He is also aware that he gets acne and he should take extra care of his skin by not scratching or picking on his pimples. He enjoys having his face being taken care of by me and how I educate him to drink up his green juices, and also eating more plant-based meals.
However, during puberty most individuals start to experience sexual urges. It is extremely normal too, for children on the spectrum to feel sexually aroused. During this time, our teenagers may also start to masturbate, which is a healthy and normal part of anyone’s sexual development. However, unlike their typically developing peers, some teenagers on the autism spectrum lack the social awareness to discern between when (and where) it is appropriate for such act and when it is not. As awkward as it may feel, it is vital for me to keep reminding him what’s appropriate and inappropriate to do in a social story that I’ve created just for him. When it comes to puberty development, my genuine advice is to not shy away from the topic. However uncomfortable, this is all part of a natural process and we should try our best to not stress out our ASD teenagers and help them to manage their anxiety level when it comes to understanding their sexual development.
Although my son is much more independent now, he still faces the common challenges that I am constantly working on, such as easily angered, managing changes to his routine and environment, navigating unfamiliar social situations, understanding sensory sensitivities by providing him with constant reassurance, especially during times of transition. I’ve always tried giving him plenty of opportunities to practice dealing with these issues and scenarios as his safe learning ground. I believe that for him to progress, I need to address all these areas consistently with appropriate strategies. As a parent, I can only hope and pray that he will have a smooth transition when he enters his twenties. As a mother, I will continue to do everything in my power to make that his reality, and walk this path with him, every step of the way