Many children get a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) later in childhood. If this happens with your child, it’s never too late to try an intervention. And there are lots of interventions that can help older children and teenagers.
About autism spectrum disorder interventions for older children and teenagers
Many types of interventions for younger children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can also help older children and teenagers.
There are also programs that have been developed specifically for older children and teenagers with ASD. These should take into account the common mismatch between an older child’s cognitive or developmental age and her age in years. For example, your child might be 13 but be more like a 9-year-old in emotional development and behaviour.
These therapies and interventions should also help your child with the skills and understanding he needs to:
Below we list some types of interventions you might want to think about for your older child with ASD.
You’ll want to make sure that the time, energy and money you invest in interventions are worth it. Two key questions can help you choose worthwhile interventions
: is the intervention supported by reliable evidence? Will it be a good fit for your family?
Social skills training
Social skills training can include teaching children and teenagers to read non-verbal cues like eye contact, body language, tone of voice and facial expression. It often includes skills like seeing things from other people’s perspectives, solving social problems and understanding social and emotional rules.
Your child might be able to do some social skills training one on one with a therapist or teacher, or as part of a group. Some programs include outings so your child can try out her new skills in the community. This helps her apply the skills she’s learned in one setting to other settings, situations and people.
Some social skills programs are designed by a therapist or a teacher for a specific child or group of children. Others might be run by someone who is trained to use a particular program, like the Secret Agent Society program, Emotion-based Social Skills Training, the Social Thinking Program or Stop Think Do.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that how we think, how we feel and how we act are all related. That is, the way we think about something shapes our feelings and our behaviour. For example, negative or unrealistic thoughts can cause us to feel bad, which in turn affects how we behave, and the choices we make.
For example, if your child thinks, ‘Nobody likes me and I’m never going to have any friends’, he’s likely to feel sad and lonely, and his actions will reflect this. He might hang out by himself or close himself off to opportunities to mix with other children.
CBT could teach your child to replace this negative thinking with something more positive and realistic. This could be, ‘It’s hard to make friends but I’m a good person and I’m going to keep trying’. This will help your child feel better about herself, so she’s more likely to try to socialise with her peers.
CBT programs also often teach relaxation strategies that your child can use to reduce and manage anxiety associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
CBT is a ‘talking therapy’, which means your child needs an adequate understanding of language to use it.
Cartooning or comic strip strategies use visual symbols to help children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) understand social situations. By drawing cartoons, children can turn abstract or confusing events into pictures that they can understand and think about with an adult’s help.
For example, your child is sent to the principal’s office after a playground conflict. With an adult’s help, your child could draw the situation as a cartoon, using speech bubbles. An adult could then talk about what happened with your child and help him understand the thoughts and feelings of the other people involved.
Modelling involves an adult or peer showing your child how to do something or how to behave, which your child then copies. Modelling can be useful for teaching many skills – for example, social skills like smiling and saying hello, skills for self-care and hygiene, and educational tasks.
Video-modelling is another option. There are some ready-made videos that show people modelling different skills, but you could also make your own. For example, you could record yourself or someone else joining in conversations, inviting a peer to play, using body language or using different tones of voice.
Interventions that use peer training teach typically developing children – for example, siblings or classmates – strategies for playing and interacting with children who have trouble with social skills. This means that when your child plays and socialises with the typically developing children, your child has more and better opportunities to develop social skills.
For example, classmates might be taught to appreciate how everybody is different, how to start an interaction with a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how to keep that interaction going.
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can develop independence by learning to regulate their own behaviour.
One way for them to do this is by recording how often a particular behaviour happens using tick sheets, stickers or a wrist counter. For example, your child’s goal might be to stay sitting down until she has finished eating. Each time your child achieves this goal, she puts a sticker in her book.
Stepping Stones Triple P
Stepping Stones Triple P is a parenting program that has been modified for parents of children, up to 12 years old, with a developmental disability. It can help you:
- manage challenging behaviour and developmental issues
- encourage behaviour you like
- develop a close relationship with your child
- teach your child new skills.
Video Interventions for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder
In this short video, parents talk about interventions for teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A person’s ASD can change over time, and different interventions can become more useful. For example, therapies focused on social skills are often relevant in the teenage years. Also, parents can sometimes do training to help them pass on skills to their teenage children in daily life.