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Transitioning to Adolescence

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the adolescent phase is defined as the ages between 10 and 19. This stage of life is filled with transitions within it, making transitioning to adolescence even more challenging. Adolescents experience growth across all areas of development, including their own identities and personalities. For most, this is often considered a difficult age to go through. (Quas, 2014). For individuals with a disability, the difficulties of this stage can be worse if they have a hard time understanding the changes happening to their bodies. Or are not sure how to establish and maintain friendships and relationships. Or maybe have deficits in communication. We can also see challenges in this phase for individuals with a disability with increases in inappropriate behaviors.

What can we do during the transition to adolescence for individuals with a disability, like autism? Is there anything we can do?

Many individuals with autism benefit from predictability, visual aids, modeling, and repetition. With this in mind, we can start to figure out how to support an individual with autism transitioning to adolescence.

It is important to identify what the individual is experiencing in their transition to adolescence. Changes such as puberty, changes to their body, social changes, changes in school, problem behaviors, or performance decline. Knowing what is going on can help to provide the support they need.

Try to increase predictability

You can do this by using a calendar, visuals, using books, or even just talking about what could happen. Keep in mind that individuals with autism still go through the same changes in puberty as everyone else. We need to be preparing them for these changes and what could happen to their bodies.

Before big significant changes or events, like starting school, provide as much information as possible. Especially for individuals transitioning to middle school. Because learning about the new dynamics and expectations for their current journey can reduce fears, worries, and unwanted behaviors.

You can create a social story with pictures of the new school and talk to them about what to expect. It is also a good idea to schedule a tour of the school. You can also help them go through their schedule. The first days of school can be overwhelming with many other students, loudspeakers, and the sound of the bell for switching classes. Scheduling a separate time to tour the school campus and going to all their classes can provide time to take in all of the changes.

Model expected behaviors and skills needed

Adolescence brings about more independence for most. Teaching new skills and modeling what they should look like can help to increase independence. Look for more skills that the individual can learn based on their current repertoire and slowly teach new skills. You can break skills down to help with the learning process.

Repetition and maximizing opportunities are key!

Individuals with autism often acquire skills best when provided with maximized opportunities and repetition to practice new skills. Find different ways to practice the skills needed to transition to adolescence and maximize those opportunities whenever possible. Practice skills with different people and in various settings to generalize the skills you’re teaching.

Planning for major transitions in adolescence for an individual with autism can help everyone in the family be better prepared. Additionally, it helps knowing more of what to expect and having the right tools. We know this can be a difficult stage in life and we are here to help! Contact us to learn about how ABA can be beneficial for your adolescent.

References

Quas, J.A. (2014). Adolescence: A unique period of challenge and opportunity for positive development. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2014/12/adolescence-development

World Health Organization. (2021). Adolescent Health. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/adolescent-health#tab=tab_1