Tag Archives: emotional age


And so, high school begins.

Inspired by my good friend Mama Edge, I prepared an information sheet about Nigel to give to all of his teachers. Why, with all the proactive things I do to ensure my son’s success, had I not thought of this before?! It’s such a basic, fundamental thing to do! Imagine how much better things might have gone in middle school had I thought of this then! *slaps forehead*

Alas, the idea had not graced me with its presence. I muddled through somehow. But I am happy to report that I am now on track, and this afternoon I presented all of Nigel’s teachers with an information sheet listing his background, his strengths and weaknesses, descriptions of his mannerisms and behavior, and tips for helping him to learn and function at his best. The teachers seemed interested and appreciative. Not all were there, but I brought extras to be given later to those who were unable to attend the meeting. The regional autism consultant, who had shadowed Nigel on his first day today, said that he seemed to do pretty well.

But afterward, as I walked through the halls on my way out to my car, the nagging doubt returned. The anxiety. I saw a wall display in one hallway that Nigel and I had walked through last week. The school mascot is the pirate, and the display cabinet held student artwork in it. Across the top of the display, in large letters, was written “Pirate allery.” Nigel laughed and pointed at it, saying in a loud voice, “‘Pirate allery!‘ The G is missing! Ha!” Then he laughed some more. “Yes,” I said, smiling. I continued in a quiet voice, trying to get him to tone down his loudness, “That’s funny.”

And really, it was pretty funny. But in that moment he reminded me of the fact that he has the emotional age of a 9- or 10-year-old. It’s not new to me, but sometimes it just hits me. And I’m mainstreaming him in high school. It’s like sending a 9- or 10-year-old to high school. *sigh* I walked out to my car, drained (this is the third time in a week that I’ve had to leave work early to go to the high school for a meeting), wanting to be hopeful, but so, so worried. So resigned to the reality, the uphill nature of parenting a child with autism, the constant wondering if I am doing enough. I have been at both ends of the spectrum with my son, and both are difficult. Some things were harder then, and some things are harder now. But if it’s hard on me, how must it be for him?

At least the high school support systems are now in place. In addition to the information sheets I gave to the teachers, I submitted a stack of print-outs of my post “Getting to Know an Autistic Teen” for Nigel’s peer advisory group, twenty kids he will be with all year long, some in other grades. The advisory teacher will give them out to the group sometime in the next few days. I said a quick prayer as I crossed the threshold of the school, hoping that this disclosure will lead to acceptance.

I got in my car and started it. Tired, lost in thought, I reminded myself that I needed to stop at the post office. As I pulled away from the curb, the car stereo came on automatically. And there it was – already. A response to my brief subconscious prayer. “Don’t worry . . . about a thing . . . ‘cause every little thing . . . gonna be all right.” I sucked in my breath, overcome with emotion. I didn’t remember that I had Bob in there. But that song, those words – right at the moment that I needed them. Such a gift.

Thank you, I said, relief washing over me.

Adventures in Puberty, Part 4

Continuing the series on information from the Autism and Puberty seminar I attended . . .

How does emotional age affect adolescence? It’s what makes adolescence come later for ASD teens. And if their social-emotional gap is large, they don’t reach adolescence until well into adulthood; in some cases, not at all. For ASD parents, puberty and adolescence is a long ride that can last into their child’s twenties or later; it’s not over after twelfth grade! Parents are constantly teaching, and ASD teens are constantly learning. It’s a time for reaching out to peers and being more aware of the media. They get information from many sources, and it needs to be filtered. Even though at the onset of adolescence ASD teens tend to want more peer interaction, they are still not connected to what their behaviors look like to others. They will need constant communication about what’s appropriate and inappropriate, and it’s up to parents to provide it. ASD teens don’t ask the questions that NTs ask. It’s up to parents to anticipate what they need to know and guide them.

Typically, adolescence – the time of emotional and social maturation – begins at around age 11 for girls and 12 for boys. In the previous post, I estimated my son’s emotional age to be around 8 or 9. Therefore, I can guess that he should begin adolescence in 3-4 years. He will be 17 or 18. Before I attended this seminar, I thought that because he recently started indicating a budding interest in dating that he was entering adolescence. This is not the case. He is merely reacting to what he sees with his typically developing peers and the teens he sees in the media. About a month ago he asked me what “flirting” meant. I explained it to him in simple terms, and then he printed out a Wikipedia definition and proceeded to notify me whenever he witnessed what he thought was flirting, based on the Wikipedia description. Even 8- and 9-year-olds have crushes and can indicate an interest in the opposite sex. It doesn’t mean they’re entering adolescence yet, and neither is my son.

When he does get there, the presenters at the seminar recommended teaching the following:

  • How relationships grow
  • How sexual feelings happen and how they can be handled
  • Differences between love and sex
  • Laws and consequences of inappropriate sexual touching of self and others; importance of impulse control
  • How pregnancy can be prevented – abstinence and birth control
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Homosexuality
  • Responsibilities of marriage and parenting

That’s quite a list! I know I’ll need help with that, and I’m sure other parents will, too. Stay tuned for a list of resources, which will be posted in the next installment.

Adventures in Puberty, Part 3

And now, the part that you’ve all been waiting for (I know, because I was, too) – dealing with emotional immaturity during puberty. This is the crux of the matter, I think. This is what makes us wonder what is going on with our ASD kids, why they fly off the handle, why they indicate an interest in dating even though they’re nowhere near ready for it. I went to the Autism and Puberty seminar seeking advice about these points, and I understand a lot more now than I did before.

So far I’ve been able to determine two main issues contributing to problem behaviors during puberty:

1) Learning to deal with hormones. It’s hard enough for NT kids to handle their surging hormones, and for ASD kids, it’s even more difficult. And ASD children who had severe sensory issues when they were younger are going to have a harder time. It took my son, who is now 14, years to learn how to filter out all the sounds and other sensory issues that were agonizing to him as a younger child. Similarly, it took him about a year to learn to filter or “deal with” all the new hormones surging through his body once puberty hit. He seems to have reached a (probably temporary) plateau at the moment, but prior to a few months ago, he was frequently agitated, short-tempered, and volatile.  He seems to have adjusted to the hormones, although I’m bracing myself for future “surges” as we get through the rest of puberty. Hormonal changes are also said to possibly trigger seizures in kids who had not previously had them, up to 1 in 4. (The presenter at the seminar explained that seizures in young ASD kids are caused by a different type of brain activity.)

2) Emotional immaturity. What exactly does this mean? As we know, autism is categorized as a developmental disability, a pervasive one that affects many different areas of development. As ASD kids get older, many of them do develop language and communication abilities, cognitive development improves, and sensory integration can as well. But social and emotional development usually lags behind, even in the presence of high cognitive ability. How behind? It varies, and it depends on something called emotional age. Emotional age is the level on which your child relates to others, and it is usually determined at your child’s school. For example, when Nigel was in fourth grade, his teacher explained to me that his emotional age was four. Yes, four, when he was ten years old. What do they base that on? Usually they do observational testing, but parents can figure it out themselves simply by looking at what age group of children your child seems to relate to the best. At the time, Nigel was relating to preschoolers, and he often acted like one. Over the past four years, he has progressed. He has friends that are his own age, but he does not fully relate to them and they do not relate to him. They like him, they spend time with him, but they have a hard time understanding him. However, there is an 8-to-9-year-old boy in the neighborhood Nigel plays with, and they seem to be on the same level emotionally. This makes me believe that Nigel’s current emotional age is about eight.

I think about what it would be like to be eight years old and going through bodily changes and dealing with hormones, starting to have sexual feelings and not having the maturity to handle them. My son sees his peers interested in girls, he sees his age group being portrayed a certain way in the media, and so he thinks he should be that way because he wants to fit in. Of course, all teens want to fit in. But a 14-year-old with an emotional age of 8 is going to have a much tougher time. And he isn’t ready because he hasn’t even hit adolescence yet.

In the next post: emotional age and adolescence, and what to teach older teens.