Tuesday 23 November 2021

10 things I'm trying to teach my autistic teenager

Teenage shoes

There's been a lot of focus on schools and qualifications for teenagers over the last few years - and rightly so.  But being a teenagers can mean learning a lot more than just academics.  Life skills aren't included when you get them help with tutoring for physics and maths online, but for many kids this is the time they need to learn about the life skills they will need to become as independent as possible.  For some it will be learning about budgeting and time keeping for others this might be being able to make a meal or get dressed independently.  

I've got three very different kids.  My eldest son is an autistic teenager and although most of the time he doesn't appear that different to his neurotypical peers, he is.  And he needs help learning the skills he'll need to be independent. He needs to have a certain level of confidence and self-awareness to ensure that he'll have the tools to succeed.  Hopefully this means that he will have better relationships, happier friendships and  be able to handle himself better, too.  

From helping them to learn the best decision-making skills, to ensuring that your teenager is able to carry themselves as well as they can, you are going to be the reason your teenager gets to adulthood in one piece. So, with this in mind, here are ten things we'll be helping our teenager to learn. 

1.  Laundry
Some parents don't teach their teenagers how to wash their clothes. While me washing their clothes when they are children is of course fine, they need to know how to wash their own clothes before they run out or don't want me handling their clothes.  We can start with basics like sorting laundry colours or farbic types, to reading the labels - more than just teaching them hoe to wash their current clothes but whatever clothes they may get in the future. We have to teach them the timings and how to use the washer and the dryer.  Folding clothes and putting them away is another task and for our kids they might all have to be taught separately. 

2. Grocery shopping
Many families will have taken their kids shopping multiple times over the years but it's not always the case when you have autistic kids.  Super markets can be overwhelming for many autistic people so starting at smaller shops can often be helpful.  Even with that there's lots involved in shopping. You can show your teenagers how to write a shopping list according to the needs of the house, and you can talk about what they like to eat at different times of the day.  We've talked about best before/use by dates with our eldest so he knows what order to eat the food in that's in the cupboard. 

3. Cooking
Learning to cook is a skill and helping in the kitchen is a big start for this.  Teenagers who learn to cook become adults who are independent of relying on others to do it for them, but even if that's not likely for all my kids I can teach them things like how to get snacks or prepare something simple like toast.  For our middle son, pictures can help and he gets involved in making the same meals over and over again even if it is chicken nuggets, chips and fruit. 

5. Organisation
We often take over to get their butts moving in the mornings, but for some of our kids we'll have to pass the responsibility to them and let them self-manage. From alarm clocks to voice notes, you can help your teenager to get into a good routine with themselves and enable them to get up and out of bed in the morning. It's not always easy to help your teenager learn time management, but this is going to help them to be more self-aware and this will be a skill that sees them far into the future.

6. Job hunting
This is a skill that you can choose to hand to your teenager when and if you think they are ready.  They might want a full, part time job or to volunteer, but finding these opportunities is difficult as it is even for skilled adults, so imagine how it would be for an insecure and nervous teenager. You have to ensure that you teach them to build on their strengths, how to answer common interview questions and more.

7. Navigation
You might have paid out for a high-tech option for your kid's car to get them from A to B, but they need so much more than this most of the time! You have to work with your teenager and that means teaching them how to use a map and how to navigate to where they need to go.  What happens if their normal bus doesn't turn up, or their local shop is closed? If they aren't familiar with public transportation, get on the bus or the train with them a few times and teach them how to get where they would need to go without a car. 

8. Motivation
Teenagers are often filled with insecurities and that can often impact their ability to motivate themselves into doing what they need to do. You might feel like you should be protecting them from pain, teaching them to hide away when they aren't feeling able to get up and go. Well, you have to teach them how to get up and carry on even on the days that they don't want to.  Everyone - teenager or senior also fails. Teaching your teenagers to cope with this and get through failing without too much pain is important. They need to fail, as without it, they won’t learn anything. Our kids have to learn that it’s okay to fall down sometimes.

9. Assertiveness
In a way this is possibly the most important thing that we can teach our son.  He's more vulnerable that others his own age and he needs to be able to be stand up for himself and have the confidence to ask for support when he needs. Teaching our teen to say no, to stand up for themselves and to make sure that they don't take negativity and lie down with it is important. We have to teach them to stand up and not take things that hurt them. That it’s okay to say no, to ask for space and to walk away from situations that don't do things for them and ask for help if you they need it.

10. Cleaning
As well as all the other daily chores that we need to teach our teenager to handle, we have to consider their own cleaning abilities. This isn't just their room - but the whole thing about cleaning themselves.  When they were younger we could just dip them in a bath and it would be ok but now with teenage bodies they need to learn about ablutions, deodorant and so on.  A routine chart can help some kids be more independent with this.  

What this top ten doesn't include is about staying safe online - this is because we've covered it before the kids have got to teenage years.  Kids are online more than ever and staying safe in something we need to be teaching or helping them with before then.  However, many teenagers spend a lot of time online as as our son add apps to his phone (and life tbh) we talk about this too.  

There's so much to learn, especially when the world isn't set up for kids like ours - if you've got any good advice I'd love to hear it too. 


  1. These are all very important! However, I want to stress that you need to be constantly assessing whether the child/teen might have missed a big basic step you assumed they already mastered. For example, from an early age on my parents assumed I'd be living independently and going to university by age 18. Then when I went into the training home for the disabled for better preparation after high school, the staff (and I) assumed I had some basic skills I didn't have. They also eventually gave up on me. For instance, because I struggle with my fine motor and executive functioning skills, I struggled to put things like jelly or peanut butter on my bread, but after a few weeks I was required to eat breakfast in my own apartment whether I wanted to or not and I pretty much ate my bread without toppings from then on because what other options did I have? I had no idea!

    1. This is a great point Astrid! Certainly with our kids all the learning needs to broken down into each single element so if was about making toast we'd first have to check they knew if they could get everything they needed out (eg, they need bread, butter, spread, a knife, a plate). Then we'd go through getting two bits of bread - and helping them check they were 'ok' to eat eg not mouldy. Then we'd do each next step - learning how to use the toaster, working motor skills to spread, working on cutting the toast safely so it was easier to eat, putting the toast onto a plate, sitting and eating at the table, putting any leftovers in the bin and what to do with the plate afterwards. Each thing might need to taught separately and we can't assume anything we haven't actually seen them do. I hope all is well with you now and thanks for your comment!

  2. Such important points. I think you have to start early with all of this; I am lucky that my son has always had a passion for the washing machine so that one came off the list straight away! Astrid also makes a great point about not missing out the small things that lead to bigger ones. My son is a fantastic navigator and yet he still cannot master tying his shoelaces - I won't always be there to install the rubber ones that don't have to be tied. I think I need to make a list of small things that could be big wins. Brilliant post x

  3. So important to teach these skills. Love that you have highlighted navigation a vital life skill that is often missed.


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