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
- 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.