Navigating the Autistic Teen

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Like many of my blog posts, I am going to start this one out not knowing where this one is going. No worries though because I have a theme for this one, and that theme shall be  navigation. Sure, let the woman with ADD navigate this thing. What can go wrong?

The truth is I have a bazillion things going  through my mind right now. For once, nothing is tied up in current events. At the moment, I am feeling like all current events can go straight to he**, or as I used to say as a child, H-E double hockey sticks. They’ve consumed too much of my energy and I am taking a temporary sabbatical. I am sure that some other writer or member of the associated press has got this portion covered. God bless them.

There is a silver lining to this. I have been feeling a bite in the air, and one of the leaves on my burning bush has turned a dark salmon. I just love the fall, and September is not far from November, and God willing, November will bring something profoundly positive. It’s also “back to school” time. Generally, I get annoyed at this time with the overkill of photos of children with their stiff backpacks, crisp jeans, and new shoes that look like they just came out of the box. It is usually during this time, when I think to myself, “Hey- I’ve washed my children’s shoes and put in new laces, mom hacks, I have got this.”

I’ve had my exceptional years and my mom-hack years. This is looking like a mom-hack year. We are living “sustainable.” Lucky for me, the first few weeks of school are so hot my children generally like to wear their summer shorts and we can get away with new t-shirts, and maybe a pair of shoes until the blowback subsides from paying the class fees, the lunch deposit, and picking up an arm load of school supplies. To be honest, our school shopping wraps up for me in about the second or third week.

As a former single mom, there are two times a year that I absolutely loathed-Christmas and back to school. For some reason, that has stayed with me, but joyful Halloween provided respite between them. I also realize I’ve got to get my priorities straight. It takes me three weeks to get it together for back to school but I can pull off Halloween a month in advance to the very day? Yes, I feel absolutely ridiculous telling my readers that I already know how I am going to decorate my yard, what our Halloween theme is, what our costumes will look like, and how I anticipate carving our pumpkins this year.Which I shall share in time.

Okay, I think I just had to slap myself in the face. Priorities lady. So let’s talk about late August and September. This is a monumental year. My son is starting High School and my daughter is starting Junior High. One child will be in public school and one child will be in private school. My son will also be driving this year. Okay, this is the blog post that I wish that I could find. “How to go about getting a drivers license for a child with high-functioning autism and should you?”

Here’s another blog post that I wish that I could find: “How to prepare your autistic child for high school when all of his former friends have lost their minds to puberty and your child has been ousted from the group?” My son has been TERRIFIED to start high school and with good reason. His former support crew has flown the coop. I’ve had to teach my son some hard lessons about fair weather friends, and how these people will not be the same people in adulthood. God willing.


I was weeding my yard and I literally caught sight of this first-hand behind my snapdragons. I saw my son’s friends run at a fast pace in front of my house so that my son “would not see them.” I saw them, but they did not see me. I heard everything. My heart imploded. I’ve talked to my son about self respect and not chasing after others. If someone wants to run from your life, LET THEM. He has partially come to terms with this. It has NOT been easy.

I’m reminded of some baseball show where two teens reminisce over their childhood in a moment of catharsis where everyone got along and played in a pack, but are later left with the burning question-What happened? We all know the story. Stereotypes and clicks take hold. Everyone falls into their pack, and some fall by the wayside. This is how outcasts are born. I try my best to romanticize the outcast persona but really, it is so over rated. Exclusion hurts. It hurts every time.

I have mentally prepared myself for these months and years ahead. I even have a back-up plan for my son to take school a half day and homeschool the other half because 8 hours of brutal high school drama may prove too much for him. In Junior high, he switched classes 8 times a day. I’m SO HAPPY he will only have four classes a day. I also have a plan in place for drivers ed. We are going to do it privately, because in my experience, drivers ed. and PE can be hell for a child with high-functioning autism in front of their peers.

My son’s depression scores are getting higher as his years in school get higher. Surprise surprise!I can not protect him from the world and keep him in a box, but I can shorten the amount of humiliation he has to endure in a day if I have to. My plan is to keep him in long enough to toughen him but not to break him. Where is that line? I am going to have to allow him to determine that. I just KNOW that as this time, it is so important that we keep the lines of communication open.

I’m starting to realize that high school also translates to “career readiness.” I know my son has dreams of animation and doing music. He diligently sits at his keyboard every day and he does sketches. Yet, his drawings and composing do not reflect his age. Heartache number two- how do I get my son invested in realistic life goals where he can still be challenged and his confidence can grow? Just a side note- I do not regret the music at all. It has opened up parts of his mind that have not been opened before.

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I was always taught that with autism there’s that “super genius” thing and that one should just go with that. Okay, that “super genius thing” is rather elusive. My husband keeps saying, “He just needs to find his groove, he’ll find his groove.” I’m still waiting. This would be a good time for it to manifest itself. Am I saying aloud what other autistic parents have thought but never dare speak?

To be honest, I don’t even know how the driving thing is going to turn out.  Yes, I think he can meet the requirements for the permit (where I am sitting beside him, guiding him, and providing some boundaries). I want to give him as much independence as possible, but at the same time, I have to do what is in the best interest of his personage and that of other people. We MAY be at restricted driving privileges beyond this. I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting to see where we draw the line for having as much independence as possible while succumbing to the boundaries of doing no harm.

Having an autistic child is a whole lot different than having an autistic teen. I am just new to navigating this myself. It seems there is more room for tolerance with an autistic child, where as for an adult or a teen, the tolerance morphs into something a little more “freakish” (For lack of a better term). At least, that is where I see things going with my son and his friends. My son’s eccentricities are tolerated less as he approaches adulthood. Before, they might have been “amusing,” now they are considered a hugely negative faux pas. His peers are now at the developmental stage where social rules and faux pas are everything.

I wish I had prepared him better for this, but yet, here we are. In hindsight, I don’t even know if there is anything out there that could have prepared us for this. Sure, social skills. Yet, the social skills of teens are their own animal. The teen years are a blurb that most people grow out of. How in the H do you instigate this chaotic phase into a skill set for the autistic teen? It is hard enough for a regular teen. I wish there was more stuff out there.


As for driving, my best resource has been talking to an occupational therapist because they have guided me to  further resources. There are also occupational therapists who help with driving assessments.  I have yet to find one who specializes in autism. Most of them work with people who have had some type of injury or brain trauma. I’m still searching for someone who works with the autism spectrum. They aren’t easy to find, but I can clearly see that they do exist in some states. For now, we are going with private driving school, where he can learn to drive at his own pace, and we will be utilizing the occupational therapist route for back up.

I am learning that one should not count on the DMV as a wealth of information on this, because  in my experience they are not. They are only useful in providing you with a medical form. Not to mention that the DMV is a totally apathetic entity.

Also, one should be aware that there will be critics no matter what. Some people will hail you for trying to give your autistic child as much independence as possible with driving, while others will berate you. I cannot win.

Finally, what most people do not GET about autism is that every person with autism is different. According to statistics, one third of those with high-functioning autism drive. I’m not sure which portion of this one-third has driving restrictions, but they do drive. I believe this is why information is so hard to find because there are not a set of rules that apply to the whole entire autistic spectrum. It really is an individual thing.

So, this is where my post on navigation went. In my last blog post I mentioned Toni Morrison. She had this to say, “If there is a book that you have wanted to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I would have loved to have read a blog post about navigating the autistic teen and how to navigate driving for the autistic teen. This is my futile attempt to fulfill a void, but we are not completely there yet.

I am sure I will have much more to say about this when it is over. I do know one thing, my son is capable of many things, and sometimes he amazes me. All pictures on this post are from a hike he did a few weeks ago. He hiked 13 miles. He was not as swift as the rest of the group towards the summit, and on the descent he was very quiet but kept pushing through.


He came home tired and took a nap, but overall, he was feeling proud and accomplished. He can do hard things. We can do hard things! Anyway-fingers crossed people that high school is not too brutal and he has a valiant first day. My daughter as well. Until next post!

Rachelle Whiting






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