Adolescence and ASDs: Focusing on the Positive (by Kate Altman, M.S.)

Last week I gave a presentation on autism and adolescence. Since it is a broad topic, I talked about a lot of different areas, including puberty, growth spurts, sexuality and sexual identity, peer pressure, fitting in, and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of these areas seem to be cause for struggle and adversity for teens on the spectrum (as they can be for all teens). Adolescence is a confusing time full of change, which can be particularly distressing to teens with ASDs who may feel especially confused by unspoken changes in social rules, which rapidly become increasingly complex.

Since we focused so much on challenges throughout the presentation, I concluded by asking the audience, which included parents and therapists, what they thought might be the benefits of being a teen with an ASD. At first everyone seemed stumped, but then they started to brainstorm some possible benefits. For example: 1.) Teens on the spectrum often have a special interest which can be a source of passion and provide an escape from the “real world” of high school; 2.) Many teens with ASDs (though, of course, not all) truly do not seem to feel as pressured to conform as other teens, and so are able to maintain their identities and senses of self; 3.) Teens with ASDs can be more open-minded and less judgmental than other teens, so they can get to know a variety of people, often of all ages, and so aren’t so limited in their friendships.

Of course, the items we brainstormed are generalizations based on observations and speculation. Our list may not apply to all teens on the spectrum, but I think it is always a good exercise to focus on the positive aspects of a certain experience. Sure, adolescence can be rough, but it can also be a time of great self-discovery, growth, and exploration.

What are your thoughts on the positive aspects of being a teen on the spectrum?