Little kids with autism spectrum get all the publicity. On the news and online, it’s all toe-walking two year olds and news of early intervention breakthroughs.
Teenagers and young adults rarely get a mention. Not cute enough, I suspect.
My eldest son, Tom, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum aged three, has just turned 18.
We have navigated the teenage years and are now into adulthood, so please, pause here and indulge me while I give myself a pat on the back. Those cute kids make cute teenagers but they don’t become adults without some significant trauma along the way.
Each teenager on the spectrum is as different from another as is each flake of snow. But they’re much bigger, and often louder than the other precious little snowflakes.
With autism, the range of abilities is huge. And most kids I know can be very capable in one area, yet significantly challenged in another.
Take my son for example. Tom has his L-plates and can drive pretty well. But he can’t add up the column of minutes driven. Tom can get himself into the city to go to a heavy metal concert, and then get back home safe and sound. He isn’t able, however, to go into a new shop to buy milk. Tom works at McDonalds part-time and cook fries and take orders very efficiently. Yet he can’t call up the manager to swap a shift around.
Many people with autism can appear to be less able than they really are due to their less developed social skills. My son is the opposite. He’s pretty friendly and sociable, but intellectually and academically is not as capable as he appears. He needs a lot of support. A big fat lot.
So here is how we've experienced the typical teenage pitfalls.......
Sex and rugs and rock n’ roll
Parents of younger kids on the spectrum might be reassured to hear that many typical teenage issues have passed Tom by. He’s not been interested in drinking and drugs, once famously saying: ‘I’m only into the sex and rock n’ roll, Mum.’
One day a text pinged through: ‘Mum, a boy at school has offered me some drugs for $30. Should I buy them?’
My text in reply: ‘Probably better not, son.’ The next text I sent was to the school principal.
God love him, our boy knows that he can’t navigate the world without relying on his parents’ help and advice. This is in sharp contrast to his younger brother who truly believes that we know nothing and have no words of wisdom to impart. So wrong.
Actually, the not drinking was a rules issue. He preferred not to touch a drop of alcohol before he was 18, ‘because you’re not allowed to, Mum.’ However, he’s taken to it with gusto in the last two weeks and we now need house rules on boozing. Quite confronting for us as parents.
Mental health issues
It’s common for kids on the spectrum to have mental health issues as teenagers. Whilst I was petrified about this, our experience has been… interesting… manageable…. sort of.