Advice for parents from a teen on the autism spectrum

By Ethan Hirschberg

This blog post is by Ethan Hirschberg, a teenager with autism. You can read more from Ethan on his blog or on Facebook/Instagram @thejourneythroughautism

Ethan Hirschberg holding up his Showcase Award

Parents, have you ever experienced a feeling of helplessness when you know that your son/daughter is upset, or in pain, and you don’t know what to do? Have you been frustrated because you feel like everything that you try either doesn’t work or backfires on you? If you are anything like my parents, you wish that you could experience the pain instead of your kid(s).

I have an advantage that many autistic kids don’t have, and for that I am very thankful. My mother has a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Ph.D.), and my dad’s major for his Bachelor’s Degree was in Psychology. From seeing them, as well as watching other parents help their kids, I have compiled a list of a few tactics that I believe work well.

Tips on how to talk to an autistic teenager

  • As someone with autism, I cannot tell you how many times I have been extremely frustrated when I am on a rant, or venting, and my parents interrupt me. To a typical person, this action would seem just like a normal conversation. In a normal conversation, people go back and forth with dialogue. But, sometimes I can’t understand this. When I am talking with my parents, they see this as a back and forth conversation, where I see it as an interruption. So, when your autistic kid is on a rant, my advice is to let them vent and get all of their thoughts and feelings out first!
  • Another thing I love my parents doing is giving me lots of affection. I am the stereotypical definition of a “mama’s boy.” I love affection, from both parents, and that is not often typical of normal teenagers. Of course, I like this attention in private; not in front of people! I especially like when I get a hard squeeze during a hug from my parents because it makes me feel better physically and emotionally. The hard pressure helps to calm my body back down.
  • When I am teased, I always appreciate when my mom and/or dad helps me through my rough patches. In school, sometimes I am teased for stimming, stuttering, or other “different” behaviors. Whenever this happens, my parents sit me down and talk to me about it. They let me talk and then they ask questions. They talk about how I can handle the situation and remind me why some kids like to bully other kids. Many times they help me come up with more socially acceptable behaviors so I won’t seem “different”.  I’ve become very good at social faking and maybe I’ll talk about that in another blog. If needed, they have even communicated with school administrators to get a problem solved. Even though children may not like it that their mom or dad is telling their principal about them being teased, which could be “snitching,” it’s worth it in the long run.
  • It always helps me when my parents just simply remind me what I can do to calm down. Instead of them making a decision about how I should calm down, I can make one myself. Some things that help me are lying under my heavy blanket, lying in bed under the sheets, listening to music, and playing on my iPad in my room.
  • Last of all, no matter what happened the previous day, my mom always starts the morning off as a new day. I have been very physically aggressive at times, as well as saying some very disrespectful or hurtful things. I used to have meltdowns that would last for hours and hours. I sometimes have consequences that go into the new day, but my mom always wipes the slate clean in her head. She doesn’t take things personally. This helps me to move on from what happened instead of having to keep talking about it or feel upset about it over and over again. This also helps to keep our relationship strong!

I know that my mom and dad sometimes think that there isn’t anything that they can do to help me but in reality, they are already doing so much to help. They may not realize this, but their guidance, love, and support is what keeps me going day by day, week by week, year by year.