Written by Erica Lee
Parenting is hard. But, for autism parents, it can be even harder to know what to say, how to connect, what helps them, and what doesn’t. You want the best for your twice-exceptional teen, but somedays you seem to argue with them more than you help them.
My name is Erica Lee and I am an autism therapist at Open Doors Therapy in California. I am passionate about helping autism parents connect with their twice-exceptional teen or child. I have worked with clients on the autism spectrum for almost seven years. So, I understand the unique struggles many autism parents have with their twice-exceptional teen. Building connection and a strong relationship with your teen is possible. Today, I would like to share a few tips that can be helpful in laying the groundwork to cultivate a stronger relationship.
Question Your Assumptions to Avoid Misunderstandings
We all make assumptions about the underlying meaning of words and tone in conversation. For example, based on someone’s tone or phrasing, we may assume they are caring. Or, on the contrary, we may assume they are hostile or rude.
The problem with this is, we are not always correct in our assumptions. Then, that can lead to misunderstandings. With neurodiverse teens, this is even more likely. Their perception of what a certain phrasing or tone of voice conveys may be very different from yours. While it is true that they may misperceive others’ communication, it is also true that you may misperceive theirs.
So, listen with an open mind. Cultivate a mindset of curiosity, avoid quick reactions, and carefully consider what your teen might be trying to tell you before jumping to conclusions. As you do so, you may find that your teen shares more openly with you and you begin to have more productive conversations.
Stay Calm to Reduce Anxiety
When anxiety is higher, communication suffers, and forming a connection with your teen is more difficult. When anxiety is lower, the opposite is true.
So, intentionally create times of relaxation and connection. Build this into your day or week. Put it on your schedule. Do activities together in a familiar environment, do things they enjoy, have one-on-one time together, have fun. If your teen has a special interest, embrace that and join them in engaging in it. When you do this, communication should flow more easily at this time and your relationship will grow.
Recognize Your Twice-Exceptional Teen's Emotions
Neurodiverse teens don’t always express emotions in the same way as neurotypical teens. There is not always a clear connection between their experience of an emotion and their expression of an emotion. Showing feelings can be difficult for them. So, they may alternate between an intense expression of feelings and almost no expression. There may be times when it is hard to know what they are feeling, but there may be other times when you are able to tell. When you can identify what they are feeling, help them label it. Consider giving them words for their feelings to help them work toward clearer and more moderate emotional expression.
Explain Your Thought Process and Your Actions
Be clear, specific, honest, and direct in your conversations with your teen. This makes it easier for them to understand you and your way of thinking. And, it reduces the chance of misperceptions and arguments. If you are doing something out of the norm for your family, explain what you are doing and why. Explain the behavior of others when it seems appropriate. When social cues are explained in this way, it helps them learn to take notice of these cues and draw more accurate conclusions about the behavior of others.
Give Your Twice-Exceptional Teen Time
Sometimes it helps to just wait. Your teen may need more time than others. They may need time for transitions, time to prepare, time to process. Slow down and wait. Build extra time into the day so they can easily shift from one thing to another. Avoid overwhelming them with too much stimulus at once. Give them time to process one thing before moving on to the next. This will reduce stress for them and allow for smoother transitions throughout the day.
Have compassion for yourself
Being an autism parent is hard and it takes time to build new ways of relating. Be as patient with yourself as you are trying to be with your teen. As you work to improve your relationship, don’t expect perfection. Remember to notice your own strengths and appreciate yourself for who you are just as you do your teen. Each of you has your own way of brightening the world through your unique personality, characteristics, and talents. Don’t forget to take a moment and reflect on this. Recognize the joy each of you brings to each other and the world.
Consider Joining a Support Group for Autism Parents
Twice-exceptional teens aren't the only ones who need support. Autism parents benefit from support too. At Open Doors Therapy we run online support groups for autism parents living in California. In these groups, you can learn more tools and techniques to cope with the difficulties that accompany parenting a twice-exceptional teen.
One unique aspect of our group is all parents have children who are high-functioning and/or twice-exceptional. So, the parents you will meet in group will be able to relate to what you're going through.
If group therapy isn't for you, consider individual therapy or coaching for autism parents.
We understand that group therapy may not work for you. Maybe the times we offer group doesn't work in your schedule. Or, perhaps you prefer to discuss your parenting challenges in a more intimate setting. I offer individual therapy and coaching for autism parents and autism family therapy to help you work through the issues you're experiencing and come up with unique and innovative solutions to help your twice-exceptional child thrive and become more independent and self-sufficient.
Begin Online Autism Therapy in California:
If you're looking for autism support for you or your child and live in the state of California, please consider contacting us at Open Doors Therapy to learn more about our autism services. Follow these steps to begin autism counseling in California:
- Make an appointment for a free 30-minute phone consultation using this link. You will meet with one of our autism therapists and you can share the issues you’re having and learn how we can help.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information that will allow you to stay up-to-date on Open Doors Therapy and our autism services.
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc. and their families. Currently, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapy team provides a variety of autism services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, autistic adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Please reach contact our autism counseling office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.