Importance of Peer Acceptance

 By Jan Hittelman

Q: My son has High Functioning Autism. He was recently not invited to a birthday party of someone whom he considers a friend. This may bother some children more than others; especially children with self esteem issues, like my son. What’s a parent to do? Monarch K-8 Mom

A: It is reassuring to know that your son has peers whom he considers friends and hopefully gets invited to other friends’ events. If so, reassuring your child that due to various limitations, not everyone can be invited to a party and being available for him to share his feeling may suffice. In addition, helping your son participate in other structured activities in the community (e.g. Recreation Centers, YMCA, school clubs, etc) can increase his opportunities for peer acceptance. If this is a more frequent problem for your son, you’re not alone. It is estimated that about ten percent of school-age children have no friends in their classes and are disliked by the majority of their classmates. This is a reason for concern because studies show that children who experience significant peer rejection report being more depressed, anxious and angry, have lower self-esteem, and are at increased risk of academic difficulties, dropping out of school, substance abuse, relationship problems and juvenile delinquency.

While peer rejection can often seem random, there are certain factors that can increase your child’s risk of being rejected by peers. The primary issue is often a lack of well-developed social skills. Social skills are tools that we use to interact with and understand others in our social environment. We are not born with these skills, but learn them through our social experiences. For children who are very shy or for a variety of other reasons are limited in their opportunities to engage in social interactions with peers, their social skills development can be restricted and they risk falling behind same-age peers. Because children with autistic features often have difficulties interacting with others in socially acceptable ways, this issue can be of even higher importance to their overall development.

In order to strengthen social skills, it is important to expose children to a variety of opportunities to interact with peers. Due to social skill deficits or difficulties, however, it is sometimes necessary to first help them develop some of the skills they are lacking and then encourage them to practice these skills in both structured and unstructured activities. Typical social skills that are necessary for effective interaction include simple mechanical skills (e.g. eye contact, smiling, other facial expressions, tone/volume of voice, body gestures, listening, complimenting) as well as more sophisticated skills (e.g. joining a group activity, coping with teasing, sharing/cooperating, dealing with conflict, being supportive of others, empathy). Similarly, some of the negative perceptions that increase the risk of peer rejection include being: mean/aggressive, disruptive, bossy/domineering, withdrawn/apprehensive, resistant/rigid, nonresponsive, and nonconforming to peer conventions. It is helpful to observe your child in social interactions and assess his/her social skills strengths and weaknesses, in order to determine the specific areas that require improvement. If this job feels a bit overwhelming, experienced child and adolescent mental health providers can often help address the issues of peer rejection and assist in developing an effective social skills training program.

Counseling for Autistic Teens

Are You Struggling To Understand And Support Your Autistic Teenager?

Are you clear where your child falls on the autism spectrum or are you still getting conflicting diagnoses, especially if your teen in on the higher functioning end of the spectrum? Even if your teen is high functioning, are there academic or social problems that seem to be getting worse now that your child is older and expected to accomplish more in bigger and broader school and social environments? Does your teen experience problems with transitions or become easily fixated on an activity, concept or idea, making adhering to a schedule consistently problematic? Are you experiencing resistance from your teen – either by your attempts to help or due to his or her rigid way of thinking? Has the school environment been a big challenge – especially if your teen is in the public school system? Do you feel very protective of your child and want to shield him or her from the social upsets and challenges that are part of the normal teenage experience, but may be more pronounced for your teen? Are you concerned about your teenager in the long-term, wondering if he or she will be able to live a normal life with a job and relationships?

The teenage years are by definition a struggle and your teen, like his or her peers, is developing a sense of self and working out a way to navigate increasingly more complex academic and social environments. In addition to that, your teen sees his or her experience through a different kind of lens. By adolescence, most higher functioning teens on the spectrum realize that they see and process things differently. And, although it’s different, it makes sense to them. While most autistic teens don’t seem to have a lot at stake emotionally or socially, some with higher functioning capabilities can develop anxiety or become reactionary, especially if they have been bullied or find it really challenging to relate with peers. Other teens may not understand their differences, and your teen along with others on the spectrum may have a hard time putting themselves in other’s shoes. This can make the already challenging school environment even more complicated – adding another level of frustration and difficulty to what both you and your child are experiencing.

By now, you probably have at least an indication of where your teenager falls on the autism spectrum. Maybe your teen is on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, or you are seeking another diagnostic opinion, or a different kind or style of intervention. Regardless, a lot can be done and finding the right therapist and getting appropriate intervention now can make big difference in the long-term.

The Autism Spectrum Community and Available Resources Are Growing

Autism is becoming more widespread, as are the kinds of intervention, community resources and an understanding of what autistic teens need to engage effectively within their greater communities. Studies are continually being done, and with them have come more developed tools and strategies to support teenagers with the cognitive and social issues that affect those who are on the spectrum.

Research also shows that early intervention is very effective, and that the teenage years are a crucial time to get the right support. It’s really common for autistic teens to struggle in school and with social interactions, which are typically the two dominant parts of a teenager’s life. Learning how to interact with others socially as a teen can make a big difference. Rather than go into physical or emotional isolation, your teen can learn and practice ways to engage with others more effectively.  This can prepare your child to better navigate social interactions now and as an adult. Having a plan – which your BPS therapist can help you develop – is key. A good plan, along with the opportunity to strategize and rehearse, as well as having an expert monitor your teen’s progress, can make a significant impact on both social and academic development now and in the future.

Therapy Can Be Very Effective

While autism is pervasive and ongoing, your teenager can learn ways to minimize the unwanted consequences of his or her special needs. Your BPS therapist can help you with the day-to-day challenges, reduce obstacles, and develop more balance within your family. You’ll also learn to set realistic goals and the tactics needed to obtain them.

In therapy, your teen can learn what to do in specific social situations. With your therapist, your teen can practice potential scenarios, which can help him or her better navigate their social experience. Your teen can also learn real, concrete strategies and be better prepared to handle difficult situations in healthier ways. Your BPS therapist can also help your teen with the executive function tasks – like organization, memory and time management – that are common challenges for teens on the spectrum and can make family and school life more difficult. By providing the appropriate tools and strategies, these challenges can be addressed and worked out in the therapy setting.

Your BPS therapist can also help you understand what things will look like for your teenager and your family in the future. You’ll create a plan and become equipped to manage issues that may occur over time.  Working with a therapist on the challenges that come with autism can provide you with the advantage of being able to develop effective management strategies. Your therapist can also help you set and obtain realistic goals and have the support and guidance needed to alleviate stress and minimize conflict. Getting to better know and understand your child and his or her specific needs can be a positive and supported process.

While you and your teenager are going to have a different kind of journey, with help, it may be possible for your teenager to have a more normal life. With help, your teen can hit certain milestones, even if you’re worried now. There is no quick fix for autism, but with the right approach, strategies, tools and education, the journey can be a truly joyous one.

But, you still may have questions or concerns…

I think that my teenager could really benefit from therapy and other outside resources, but I’m concerned about costs.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your teen’s autism-related issues now may prevent a host of problems from occurring as he or she finishes high school and enters adulthood. Investing in your teen’s mental and emotional health and ability to function socially now can provide great benefits. It can also keep the symptoms from getting worse and interfering with his or her ongoing social development .

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with adolescent autism spectrum issues or who they or their teenager couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced to treat adolescent autism spectrum issues and whose personality is a good match for you and your teen. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine everyone in your home – especially your teen –  feeling and functioning better now and in the long-term on a regular basis and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find other lower cost resources in the community, such as Imagine!, a local program that provides support, resources and funding specifically for children and adolescents with autism.

My teenager doesn’t seem to be distressed about his or her social world and is doing okay. Wouldn’t it be best to just leave my child and the situation alone?

Even if your teen seems to be managing okay right now, it is necessary that he or she be working on skill building and getting better prepared to function independently. Preparing a plan, learning skills, developing strategies and practicing how to navigate difficult situations is necessary for teenagers on the spectrum. It should be happening regularly during the teenage years, regardless of the level of distress. Therapy can provide your teen with the skills needed to handle social challenges and to live and function in the large community. It can give him or her tools to be more successful. We live in a world where many people still do not understand the challenges and differences that come with being on the autism spectrum. While we cannot change the social environment, therapy can help your child be better prepared to function well within it. Without proper skills, your child may resort to mental, emotional or physical isolation, which is not healthy. The demands on your teen will only increase as he or she gets older. Without skills to navigate the world independently, your child will need to continue to rely on you and family to do it for him or her. Now – while your child is still a teen and has constant support from you –  is the time to give your teen the skills and practice needed to live a more normal and independent adult life.

We’ve tried anything and nothing helps. I’m starting to feel like nothing will.

The helplessness that you’re feeling and experiencing can be highly frustrating and is very understandable. Sometimes parents get bad or inappropriate advice or are not plugged into the right resources. However, even if you feel like you’re constantly treading water, without help, your child could feel like he or she is drowning.

The good news is that, with the right therapist and resources, a lot can potentially be done to help your child. You need a therapist who understands the teenage experience, how autism works and the challenges that occur for teenagers on the autism spectrum. At BPS, your teen will be matched with a therapist who has experience working with autistic teenagers and understands the different intricacies that make up his or her experience. You can’t expect to be able to handle this on your own – nor do you have to. With the right therapist and tools, your teen – and you and your family – can get the help and support needed so that everyone in your home can feel and function much better.

We encourage you to schedule a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your child’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you, your child and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your teenager with a therapist who has expertise in counseling for autistic teens, working with adolescents and autism spectrum issues.

 

BPS therapist Dan Fox, LPC helped create the content for this page. Dan is a licensed professional counselor and Imagine! provider who has been working with autistic children and their families since 2002. Dan’s diverse, adolescent-focused background also includes teaching high school, running a summer camp, school counseling and serving as director of September High School.

Treatment for Autism in Children

Are You Struggling To Understand And Support Your Autistic Child?

Do you know or suspect that your child may have some level of autism? Has your child received conflicting diagnoses, which are difficult to make sense of? Does your child exhibit real social awkwardness or engage in repetitive behavioral fixations? Are ongoing conflicts, frustrations and outbursts a part of daily life? Do basic routines and boundaries feel impossible to maintain? Does everything – even simple tasks – seem harder than it should? Are you worried about your child’s ability to function socially and have a normal life?

Children who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum tend to have behavioral problems, difficulties reading social cues and struggle to understand and communicate their emotional feelings. These challenges can lead to outbursts, ongoing conflicts and can make you feel anxious, confused and highly worried about your child. Although autism is on the rise and we have more tools to help our children, it’s still commonly misunderstood. It can be a highly frustrating experience to figure out how to best support your child. And, it’s common to grapple with how to foster your child’s development in a society that can feel depersonalized and too big.

Autism is More Common Than You Might Think

Autism encompasses a wide spectrum of behaviors and symptoms of varying degrees, which is why it’s not uncommon to receive conflicting diagnoses. However, as more research is completed, professionals are getting better at diagnosing children who fall within the spectrum.

The good news is that recent attention given to the autism spectrum has led to increased awareness, better research and earlier medical and therapeutic interventions in the treatment for autism. This has made a positive difference in how children on the autism spectrum are viewed, treated and supported.

Resources available for families of autistic children are also steadily increasing. There is better support in many school and communities. And, working with a therapist who is licensed and trained to work with autistic children can make a dramatic, positive impact in the lives of your child and family.

Therapy Can Be Very Effective

Your highly trained and experienced BPS therapist can offer you and your child help on many levels. As an expert, your therapist understands the range of normal and the autism spectrum and can relay that information to you and explain where your child falls within the spectrum. Oftentimes, receiving a thorough explanation during a confusing and frustrating time can provide some immediate relief and help guide future planning.

While autism is pervasive and ongoing, your child can learn ways to minimize the unwanted consequences of their special needs. Your therapist can help you with the day-to-day challenges, reduce obstacles, and develop more balance within your family. You’ll also learn to set realistic goals and the tactics needed to obtain them.

Your BPS therapist can also help you understand what things will look like for your child and your family in the future. You’ll create a plan and become equipped to manage the challenges that may occur over time.

It’s also important to note that the earlier the treatment, the more effective it can be. Children give (or don’t give) nonverbal cues as early as six months of age that can indicate that there may be something going on. Working with a therapist on the issues that come with autism can give you the advantage of being able to develop effective management strategies. Your therapist can also help you set and obtain realistic goals and have the support and guidance needed to alleviate stress and minimize conflict. Getting to better know and understand your child and their specific needs can be a positive and supported process.

While you and your child are going to have a different kind of journey, with help, it may be possible for your child to have a more normal life. There is no quick fix for autism, but with the right approach, strategies, tools and education, the journey can be a truly joyous one.

But you still may have questions or concerns…

I think that my child could really benefit from therapy and other outside resources, but I’m concerned about costs.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your child’s autism-related issues now may prevent a host of problems from occurring as he or she enters new developmental stages, such as adolescence. Investing in their mental and emotional health and ability to function socially now can provide immediate improvements. It can also keep the symptoms from getting worse and interfering with their social development as they get older.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with children’s autism spectrum issues or who they or their child couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced in the treatment of  autism spectrum issues and whose personality is a good match for you and your child. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine everyone in your home feeling and functioning better now and in the long-term on a regular basis and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find other lower cost resources in the community, such as Imagine!, a local program that provides support, resources and funding specifically for children with autism.

I think that my child may fall within the autism spectrum, but I’m afraid of a diagnosis and the label that carries. I don’t want my child to be viewed as different.

First, it’s so important that you understand your child and his or her uniqueness. An expert can help you determine if your suspicion is correct – if your child’s behaviors fall outside of the range of normal and if he or she could really benefit from outside, expert help. It’s not the label, but the needs of your child that is the big issue here. If your child does fall within the autism spectrum, he or she will likely be impacted by the disorder to some degree for their entire life. Early intervention and identifying and addressing the issues that children with autism are affected by now can make a significant difference down the road. Developing skills and strategies and a plan early on can not only provide immediate relief for your family, but also set your child up for success as he or she gets older.

I feel like we’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m starting to think that nothing can help.

Your frustration is understandable and very normal. Unfortunately, for children who fall within the autism spectrum, there is not quick fix. It’s a journey. Thankfully, however, the right therapist can help alleviate a lot of frustration and offer critical and effective support and guidance. You and your child can get on the right track. The key is finding someone who really gets your child – who he or she can relate with and feels comfortable with. BPS is committed to helping you find that great match. And, you just need help figuring out what needs to be managed and how to do it. With the right intervention and approach, so many people have seen significant results and you can, too.

We encourage you to schedule an increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory with a BPS therapist, trained by BPS Director, Dr. Jan Hittelman. We will work with you to determine what your child’s specific issues are and to ensure a good match between you, your child and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

You can also check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with children and autism spectrum issues.

dan-foxBPS therapist Dan Fox, LPC helped create the content for this page. Dan is a licensed professional counselor and Imagine! provider who has been working with autistic children and their families since 2002. Dan’s diverse, child-focused background also includes teaching high school, running a summer camp, school counseling and serving as director of September High School.