About therapies and supports for older autistic children and teenagers
There are many therapies and supports for autistic children, which can help both younger and older autistic children and teenagers.
There are also therapies and supports that have been developed specifically for older autistic children and teenagers. These take into account the common mismatch between older children’s cognitive or developmental age and their age in years. For example, an autistic child might be 13 but be more like a 9-year-old in emotional development and behaviour.
These therapies and solutions also help children develop the skills and understanding they need to:
- go through puberty
- build healthy self-esteem and social relationships
- manage romantic and sexual feelings
- deal with any adolescent low moods and mood changes.
Below we list some types of therapies and supports you might want to think about for your older autistic child.
Social skills training
Social skills training helps children and teenagers learn to read non-verbal cues like eye contact, body language, tone of voice and facial expression. It often covers 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 a social skills training program one on one with a therapist or teacher, or as part of a group. Some training programs include outings so your child can try out new skills in the community. This helps children apply the skills they've learned in one setting to other settings, situations and people.
Some social skills training 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, the Westmead Feelings program, 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’, your child is likely to feel sad and lonely, and their actions will reflect this. Your child might hang out alone or avoid 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 themselves, so they’re more likely to try to socialise with peers.
CBT programs also often teach relaxation strategies that your child can use to reduce and manage anxiety associated with autism.
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 autistic children and teenagers 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 them 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 help children and young people learn 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, your child, or someone else joining in conversations, inviting a peer to play, using body language, using different tones of voice and so on.
Peer training teaches typically developing children – for example, siblings or classmates – strategies for playing and interacting with children who have trouble with social skills. When these typically developing children play or socialise with your autistic child, your child has more and better opportunities to develop social skills.
For example, classmates might be taught to appreciate that everyone is different, as well as how to start an interaction with an autistic child and how to keep the interaction going.
Autistic children can develop independence by learning to manage their own behaviour.
One way they can 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 they’ve finished eating. Each time your child achieves this goal, they put a sticker in a 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.