Nancy (mother of Andrew, 19, who is autistic): Looking back at Andrew’s teenage years, it was a challenge. Parents don’t expect it to come and it comes very … suddenly. It’s almost overnight. You realise that he’s growing; he’s changing. Whatever I had done with my older son – who doesn’t have autism – I did with Andrew. It’s just the way I approached it was different, because I had to put it in his own world, in his own cognitive skill.
Alison (mother of Ellis, 13, who is autistic): Definitely we’re getting the voice breaking and he’s getting that [grunts] attitude, and sometimes it’s hard to know is it just Ellis being a teenage boy, or is it the Asperger’s and the ADHD? And sometimes I find that hard to distinguish.
Dolores (mother of James, 14, who is autistic): Sometimes you’ve got to sit back and think he’s still a 14-year-old boy. He still goes through those normal things. And sometimes you’ve got to look at it at that normal level, and just take the autism away from it. And just look at it that way.
Nancy: In a way his disability shields him from a lot of things that other teenagers have to go through. There’s no peer pressure, for example. There is no ‘I want this’ and ‘I want that’ – the latest gadgets, this and that – no. Andrew, in a way, did not have to go through that.
Marie (mother of Sam, 15, who is autistic): He’s clinging onto the apron strings, big- time. Whereas with his younger brother who craves independence, wants to go to school by himself, and doesn’t want me there to embarrass him. I think Sam would be quite happy for me to drive him to school and, you know… He still wants me to make his breakfast for him, when he’s more than capable of getting himself a bowl of cornflakes or something. Umm, so I’m constantly having to say ‘Do you want to try and do that yourself?’
Dr Richard Eisenmajer (psychologist, The ASD clinic): There is often I think this gap between the child’s chronological age and their social, emotional age. So the child might be, say, 14, but in some ways still like a 10 or 11-year-old child. And that’s not to say we can’t educate a 10- or 11-year-old child about their body changes and how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking and their moods – you can. But clearly things need to be done in a slightly different way to what you would with a normally developing 14- year-old.
Dr Mark Stokes (Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Deakin University): Their bodies are going to change in remarkable ways and they’re going to move into adulthood. And they’re going to be expressing the normal range of things that adolescents obtain through puberty and adolescence. So, the positive things that come out of it are just the same as the positive things that come out of it for a typically developing kid. They’re going to form lifelong friendships; they’re going to get an idea of the kind of future they would like for themselves. They’re going to start exploring the world and gaining independence.
Katharine Annear (disability educator who has Asperger’s disorder): In my work with people on the spectrum, and in my own life I think, I’m surprised at the capacity for resilience in young people with autism spectrum disorder. It’s absolutely phenomenal, when you think about all the things they go through. And they still manage to bounce out the other end of adolescence, with a determination to get on with things.