As a parent of a child with autism you already know as well as I do there are no easy paths. I’m not suggesting we cling to any sort of “victim mentality”… no boo-hoooing around here! But you understand what I mean when even the simplest daily activities can sometimes turn into a major ordeal because of a loud sound, or too many people, or a certain smell triggers your child. Well, nothing gets easier with ASD kids in their pre-teen years so hold on tight and know that you can get through it!
At this point your child is spending most of his/her time at school so now this becomes the primary element we focus on. During these late elementary and early junior high years an unfortunate truth is often times students can be less than sensitive, and in some cases even downright mean. It is reasonable to expect your child to feel isolated and perhaps even be the focus of bullying because he or she may appear different than other kids. Recess, lunchtime, class presentations are also challenges for many ASD kids entering their pre-teen years. So, what can WE do? Without specific instructions for each individual, my best advice is to be intentional, be an advocate, be involved at school. Make sure you get on a first-name basis with the principal and your child’s counselor, they can be your greatest assets on the inside.
I am often asked about enrolling children in private school vs. public school. Firstly, as a parent I am very intentional about exposing all of my children to the real world and trying my best to not shelter them from the sometimes harsh realities and problems of life. So it is not my style to “run” from challenging situations and I will say that turning towards private school will NOT solve all of your problems. Many (but not all, sadly) public schools today have phenomenal staff and resources and programs available for families with autistic students. IF YOU STAY ENGAGED you will find many beneficial accommodations can be made in a traditional school setting. However, one of the biggest potential advantages to enrolling in private school for your ASD child is the more individual and focused attention your child will receive. In almost every case public school classrooms are much larger and as a result your kiddo just will not get as much one-on-one attention as in most private school settings.
And it wouldn’t be a proper pre-teen article without mentioning the dreaded “P” word — PUBERTY. Yes, you may have already realized that autistic kids have the same body changes as any other kiddo and this presents its own unique set of issues to work through. Hygiene habits are now a priority which can be difficult when your child refuses to wash the shampoo out of her hair. Or when your son who is very particular about smells/odors and refuses to apply deodorant. Or when your young daughter will not put on a bra because of her hypersensitivity to physical touch. My best advice: implement routines for these activities. We post notes with details about shower time anda checklist of daily hygiene tasks on the mirror with an expo marker. Participate with your kids in these activities until they have a comfort level. Practicing shaving or washing your hair together can give your child a great model to follow and begin learning proper grooming habits.
If there was a magic formula for this phase I would share it, but we are on our own. My encouragement to you is to find your own blend of engagement that works for your child. At our house we have a blend of ongoing therapy + medications + structured home environment (chores, hygiene, etc.) and this works for us. Your family is unique and you will find your own comfort zone. Remember to be engaged at the school level and start laying out plans for daily routines and habits related to hygiene and grooming. Keep your head up and keep loving your kiddos!
The PediaPlex Family,