Teen Autism, What Is It?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of developmental brain disorders. “Spectrum” refers to the range of different symptoms, impairments, and skills that teens with Autism may have. Within the spectrum, the level of impairment can differ according to the individual teen. The main five disorders in the Autism Spectrum are: Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Rett’s Disorder, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Teen Autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
What Autism Looks Like
Symptoms within Autism Spectrum Disorder vary according to each individual teen, but tend to fall within three general categories: social impairment, difficulty communicating, and repetitive behaviors. Because Autism is a disorder that effects the brain’s proper development, teens with Autism have not followed, and continue not to follow, typical development within these areas.
With regard to atypical development affecting social impairment, teens with Autism tend to have difficulty engaging and communicating normally with others. Teens might avoid eye contact, not listen or respond to others, and respond dramatically or strangely when others show emotion. These social impairments are believed to be caused by an underlying difficulty for teens with Autism to pick up on social cues that would normally help them to make decisions as to how to, or not to, behave and engage in their environment.
Teens with Autism may also have difficulty communicating with others. They may not pay attention, not answer questions, or be unable to remain focused on a conversation. Sometimes, such as within Asperger’s Syndrome, teens may repeat things multiple times, and/or difficulty using words to express their emotions, without becoming upset or angry.
Teens with Autism often have repetitive behaviors, such as certain movements with their hands or arms, and/or walking strangely or in specific patterns. This might also extend to the teens wanting to eat the same meals, repeat the same structure within their daily schedule, and/or taking repetitive routes to destinations, such as school. They might also show overly focused interests or insistent fixations, such as the movement of a wheel, interest in a certain topic, or specific ways of organization. Because they become fixated, disrupting any of these established patterns or habits can cause them to become very upset, causing emotional outbursts.
Teens with Autism may also have symptoms of disrupted or limited senses, sleep problems, intellectual differences, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, and/or co-occurring disorders. Because the Autism Spectrum includes such an array of exhibited symptoms, depending on the teen, the effects of the disorder can also vary widely.
Residential Teen Treatment
Though there is currently no cure for Autism Disorder, a combination of treatment and medication can allow teens with Autism to continue growing in their development and gain enough relief from their symptoms in order to live a healthy life. Because Autism is a developmental brain disorder, early detection and treatment can greatly increase the cognitive and communicative abilities of kids with autism. Most often, teens that come to Paradigm have Autism as a co-occurring disorder. Therefore, the treatment plans for teens with Autism are made up of special approaches, efforts, and/or adjustments, in combination with their treatment for the other co-occurring disorder. Some of the specific adjustments and approaches for Autism treatment include:
- Providing one-on-one therapy for teens with Autism, in addition to group therapy sessions
- Therapists provide special Talk Therapy sessions, helping to address emotional or mental triggers, especially those which cause outbursts
- Therapists help teens to practice communication skills, recognize social cues, and develop practices that help prevent outbursts
- Therapists provide special structure to help teens have a sense of order and ownership of their treatment
- Therapists work with teens on social skills
- Therapists provide research-based therapy to address problematic behaviors
- Special academic support
- Special Verbal Behavior Treatment
- Specialized Responsive Behavior Treatment
Medications can also help provide relief from the symptoms teens experience as a result of their Autism. The three major types of Autism medications include Antipsychotic medications, which can help with severe outbursts and/or repetitive behaviors; Antidepressant medications that help with depression, anxiety, as well as repetitive behaviors; and Stimulant medications, similar to those prescribed to people with ADD, which help teens develop the ability to focus.
What are some of the important environmental factors that I can be aware of to help support my teen?
One of the most prominent, and sometimes challenging, environments for a teen with Autism is school. This is true for a number of reasons, including the fact that it combines the social setting with the academic, which are two of the challenging areas teens with Autism might experience. Therefore, working as a team with your teen’s school, including the administration and teachers, can help provide your teen with a support system while they’re at school. This can be a powerful force in helping your teen cope with the disorder.