Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Autism Awareness Guest Blogger: Troy Corley

Yes, Your Asperger's Teen is Crazy!

By Troy Corley
Co-Founder of ASAP Asperger's Support for Adolescents Plus www.vcasap.org

Shocking to call your teen with Asperger's crazy? Not really. ALL teens are crazy when it comes to the perspective of parents, grandparents and other guardians of our emerging adults.

In fact, "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind," is the title of one of the best books on raising teens and young adults that I've ever read. Author Michael J. Bradley, a psychologist, details how the most advanced parts of the human brain continue to grow in sporadic spurts up until the age of 25 or so.

These spurts account for the often impulsive, unstable and unpredictable behavior of teens and young adults. And guess what? Teens with Asperger's are no different.

I credit Bradley's book for saving my sanity while raising my teen son with ADD. I credit his book for saving my soul while going through some traumatic times with my Asperger's daughter Em, whose anxiety over sensory issues, social situations and the school system, nearly sent us all over the edge of reason.

Raising a child with Asperger's is no picnic. But neither is raising any child in these times. What I learned from Dr. Bradley was to take a major step back in the middle of chaos and to see my daughter as a person with a teen brain first, and a person on the Autism Spectrum, second.

A key word here is not only "teen" but "person." Teens are people. They deserve the same respect you would give any person. Trying to communicate with a teen and especially inflexible Aspies with an authoritarian "it's my way or the highway" approach, simply doesn't work. In fact, it compounds an already contentious situation rife with anger that can explode into aggressive behavior.

Teens and young adults also need acceptance of who they are. And those on the Autism Spectrum not only need acceptance of who they are but acceptance of how they relate and experience the world around them, because it is different than neurotypical teens and young adults.

It took a crisis with my daughter for me to really get this message. I had to throw out my preconceived ideas about how to raise a teen and what to expect of my teen daughter with Asperger's. By wholeheartedly embracing the concept of "respect and acceptance," I dramatically changed how I related to Em. It not only brought a deeper understanding of who she is but the chaos that once governed our household has dissipated.

Is the chaos still there? At times yes, but these moments of confusion and anxiety for her have become less frequent and less intense. She has become more independent, allowing her step-father and I to be able to carve out time for ourselves as a couple, something we could rarely do before without meltdowns as a result.

With respect and acceptance as my mantra, I now not only love my daughter for who she is but I no longer focus on who she is not. I put my energy into her strengths and interests, which in turn has made her life richer and has encouraged her to pursue creative opportunities that otherwise would have been lost.

I've brought the philosophy of respect and acceptance to a social support group for teens and young adults with Asperger's and High Functioning Autism. ASAP Asperger's Support for Adolescents Plus (http://www.vcasap.org) is not another therapy group. It's an organization where young people on the high end of the spectrum can socialize and develop friendships.

Since our ASAP members come from a variety of family backgrounds, it's often a challenge to impart this philosophy of respect and acceptance to the parents, grandparents and other caregivers. Many are reeling from the impact of having a rigid relationship with their children, based on a lack of respect and acceptance. I try to quietly yet firmly get the message across.

When parents ruefully admit that their son loves to play a Pokemon card game, I tell them that's wonderful -- their son has an interest! Respect and accept this and find out who else likes to play and get a group together to play the game once a month. When parents heard the laughter from ASAP members playing a game of Taboo, they were surprised to find that it was their young adult laughing with friends and not the "normal" sister of one of our members. Respect and accept that your child with autism can have friendships and also respect and accept that using the world "normal" in reference to people on the spectrum is neither accurate nor helpful. Ashamed that your child on the spectrum is not attending college or doesn't have a career? Respect and accept that a college degree or a high-paying job does not guarantee a life well-lived.

So this April, Autism Awareness Month, celebrate your teen and young adult on the spectrum. Understand that while their brains are powered by a type of crazy growth that keeps them from effortlessly communicating with their parental units, that you can help them rewire their lives by showering them with the respect, acceptance and love they need to develop into happy adults.

You can contact Troy Corley, a mother of a teen daughter with Asperger's, at troy@vcasap.org.

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