Adolescence often presents new challenges for young people with autism and their families. Hormonal changes can be difficult for any teenager, but especially so for the young person with autism, who may struggle to understand their changing body and emotions. They may have difficulties understanding their own sexual feelings, and misunderstand social norms concerning the development of friendships and romantic relationships. Neurotypical teenagers can be quite ‘cliqueish’, excluding anyone who doesn’t conform to their way of doing things. Consequently, this is a life-stage when experiences of rejection, isolation or bullying are likely to be particularly prevalent, and is possibly why young autistic people are especially prone to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety (Picci and Scherf, 2014).
Picci and Scherf argue that the problems facing the autistic adolescent concern more than the challenges of social relationships. They suggest that around 30 per cent of autistic adolescents show an overall deterioration in their level of functioning in adolescence, and attribute this to a ‘second hit’ of difficulties affecting the brain and cognitive processes, accentuating weak central coherence and executive function problems (see Week 4). One consequence is that young people with autism often have difficulty with autonomy – that is, making decisions and performing everyday tasks. Despite these challenges, Claire Bachman, an American student with Asperger syndrome, is living independently from her parents and attending college:
As I transition to adulthood, I find it particularly challenging to do things such as daily chores on my own. I struggle to remember to take care of myself by bathing, brushing my teeth and the like. I was so used to my parents either doing things for me or reminding me to do them. Getting myself prepared for the day, looking for what to wear to school or to meetings, activities or events has been challenging. I am often not sure which outfit is appropriate, professional or acceptable.