Enjoying activities and spending time with friends is a natural part of life. While some skills in this arena do not come naturally to individuals on the autism spectrum, this does not mean that they do not desire friendship or intimacy. Quite the opposite. In fact, not only do young people with ASD desire friends, they need the opportunities that peer interactions bring in order to realize the developmental milestones of adolescence. These include development of a realistic and positive self-identity, increased capacity for intimate, complex relationships, and emerging independence.
Sadly, misunderstanding and social isolation are often experienced by teens with ASD. In a 2010 study of adolescent boys, Mathias Lasgaard and colleagues found a strong association between ASD and reporting that one felt "always" or "often" lonely and that the degree of loneliness was greater for those with ASD.
Self-Advocacy & Emotional Growth
Worse, recent research done on behalf of the US Department of Education has also shown the degree to which young people with ASD are involved in bullying: As reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 46.3% -- or nearly half -- of young men and women with ASDs are victims of bullying, while 14.8% engage in “perpetration” themselves. Another 8.9% fall into both categories simultaneously (“victimization/perpetration”).
Despite these very real challenges, adolescence and early adulthood can be a time of amazing growth and self-discovery for young people with ASD. Young adults who attend college or other post-secondary schools report enjoying an environment where there is greater acceptance of diversity than in a typical high school. Having a passionate interest in your subject of study or a favorite activity is likely to be admired rather than ridiculed in these settings. Developmentally, the brain undergoes a final growth spurt, increasing the capacity self-control and personal organization. For some, academic achievement comes easier than previously experienced.
This is also a time when many on the spectrum become more aware of their disability -- its strengths, its weaknesses, and its impact upon others. As young people work toward incorporating this new understanding into their identity, many struggle with the difficult questions surrounding disclosure and self-advocacy: Who do I tell about my ASD? And what do I tell them?
For some young people, participation in the neurodiversity movement, is a path to greater self-understanding, pride, and friendship. Led entirely by individuals on the autism spectrum, this advocacy effort advances "the concept that the goal of autism advocacy should not be a world without Autistic people. Instead, it should be a world in which Autistic people enjoy the same access, rights and opportunities as other citizens." Other young adults find different routes by which to claim their equality and the validity of their experience. While it may, at times, be hard, for parents to hear statements that question the value of interventions they may have advocated for in the past, it is important to remember that ambivalence about parental guidance is part of the journey to adult independence.
New Hampshire Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders
Putting the Pieces Together in the Granite State
Self-Advocacy and Emotional Growth
The NH Council on Autism Spectrum Disorders
21 S. Fruit Street
Concord, NH 03301
Copyright (c) 2012 NH Council on ASD, all right reserved