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Supporting Autistic Teenagers Through School

As the school year unfolds, parents, teachers and support networks play a pivotal role in ensuring the success and well-being of autistic teenagers. Navigating the educational system can be a unique challenge for parents and students, requiring a thoughtful and supportive approach. In this post, we’ll explore practical strategies and tips to help you, as parents or caregivers, to support your autistic teenagers at school.

Understanding Individual Needs 

Autism is a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others and experiences their environment. It can be easy to assume that all autistic teenagers face the same challenges in school. But this isn’t the case. Autism presents differently in everyone, so your support starts by recognising and understanding their individual needs.  

Your teenager has distinct strengths, challenges, and preferences. Collaborating with educators and support staff to create a personalised plan can be instrumental in addressing specific requirements to ensure a more productive and inclusive learning environment. 

Building Effective Communication Channels 

How many times have you heard the saying’ communication is key’? As parents, we can honestly say we’ve heard it too many times to count. The reality is that communication is the cornerstone of any successful support system. Establishing open and consistent lines of communication with teachers, support coordinators, and school staff is crucial.  

Regular meetings, such as parent-teacher conferences and Individual Learning Plan (ILP) reviews, provide opportunities to discuss progress, set goals, and address any concerns. 

Advocating for Inclusive Education 

Australia strongly emphasises inclusive education, aiming to provide equal opportunities for all students. The ACT Government has developed an Inclusive Education Strategy and Action Plan to strengthen inclusive education across all ACT public schools. As part of this plan, Inclusion Coaches will begin working across the Tuggeranong region in 2024, with expansion to other schools in the near future.  

Despite this plan, parents and caregivers must continue to advocate for their autistic teenagers by actively participating in school committees, promoting awareness, and collaborating with educators to foster a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. This ensures that the school community understands and accommodates the diverse needs of autistic students. 

Supporting Social Integration 

Navigating social interactions and developing key social skills can be challenging for autistic teenagers. Social skills for autistic teenagers include: 

  • working out what other people are thinking and feeling 
  • understanding facial expressions and body language 
  • adjusting to new social situations 
  • solving social problems, like what to do when you disagree with someone 
  • understanding unwritten social rules 
  • sharing interests with other teenagers. 

Parents can work with school staff to implement strategies that support social integration, such as social skills training, peer mentoring programs, and creating sensory-friendly spaces. Encouraging extracurricular activities, like social groups, outside the school environment and tailored to individual interests can also facilitate positive social connections and enhance overall well-being.  

Ignition Gamers is an excellent example of a social activity for autistic teenagers or young adults who love gaming! We have regular sessions each week where individuals come together to have fun and develop the skills we’ve just mentioned. You can read what we’re all about HERE

Addressing Sensory Sensitivities 

Sensory sensitivities are a common aspect of autism, and the education system acknowledges the importance of addressing these sensitivities to create an optimal learning environment.  

Collaborating with teachers to implement sensory-friendly strategies, such as providing sensory breaks, using noise-cancelling headphones, or creating quiet spaces, can significantly enhance the comfort and focus of autistic teenagers during the school day.

In accordance with the Expert Panel’s recommendation to provide safe and appropriate sensory spaces, the Education Directorate invested $ 6.452 million in infrastructure improvements between 2016 and 2019. This investment has supported 53 ACT public schools to have safe, calming sensory spaces. These spaces are designed to support students in relaxing, reducing anxiety, and regulating their sensory needs when they feel overwhelmed or need a safe place to go throughout the day. 

Source: education.act.gov.au 

Promoting Independence and Self-Advocacy 

Fostering independence is key to supporting autistic teenagers during their school years and beyond.  

Encourage self-advocacy by teaching them to articulate their needs, preferences, and challenges. This skill enhances their confidence and equips them with tools to navigate various situations independently. As teenagers transition into higher grades, developing these skills becomes increasingly important for future academic and personal success. 

Using Technology for Learning 

Australia embraces technology integration in education, providing a valuable resource for autistic teenagers. Explore assistive technology tools that cater to individual learning styles and preferences. Educational apps, interactive online resources, and communication aids can enhance the learning experience and empower autistic teenagers to engage more effectively with their studies.  

If you’re thinking about using an app, we recommend talking to teachers, therapists and other professionals to help you choose the one that best suits your child’s needs. And remember, what works well for one teenager…might not work well for another.  

Promoting Mental Health and Well-being 

Data from surveys shows that up to 46% of children on the autism spectrum between 3-16 years and 70% of children aged 10-14 experience at least one mental health condition. 

Source: Autism Spectrum Australia 

Our education system strongly emphasises supporting students’ mental health and well-being – but it’s far from perfect, which is why it’s so crucial for parents and caregivers to collaborate with teachers, school counsellors and mental health professionals to create a comprehensive support plan. This may include strategies for managing stress, fostering emotional resilience, and promoting a positive attitude towards learning. 

Refer to the Mental Health and Well-being Guide from Autism Spectrum Australia for more guidance.  

Supporting autistic teenagers at school 

The school year involves collaboration, understanding, and a commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive educational environment. By recognising the individual needs of your teenager and embracing effective communication, and advocacy for inclusive education, parents and caregivers can empower their teenagers to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. Together, with your support network, you can navigate the unique challenges and celebrate the achievements of your autistic teenager throughout their educational journey.  

Earlier in our article we mentioned the importance of helping autistic teenagers to develop key social skills. If your child is between the ages of 14-35 and loves gaming – online gaming or role-play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons – let’s chat! Our sessions generally go for two hours, and we’ve seen some remarkable transformations in our participants. Plus, you’ll have access to our extensive network of health professionals. Enquire today and book a free call

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