Back to School : how to prepare your teen for a new school year

It’s that time of the year again – school is starting up again soon, along with our hopes and expectations for a positive learning experience for our teens. Some maybe returning to the same school; others may be moving from middle school up to high school, or changing from high school to a transition program; others may only be changing classrooms or teachers. Whatever the situation, any type of transition or change can be stressful for a teen on the spectrum. The start of a new school year can also be stressful for parents and teachers.

I first posted this article on the last August (2009), but it is still useful information so I am reposting now.

On August 15th,2009, I presented at the annual “Back to School”  Autism / Asperger conference in Pasadena and had the opportunity to refresh my memory on some good readiness skills for the start of the new school year. A2Z Educational Advocates based in Pacific Palisades had some good tips to share in a “Back to School Guide” they were handing out. Following are some tips from both the “Back to School Guide” and from my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum to help the transition go smoothly for your teen or student:

  • If  your student is moving to a new school or classroom, take photos or videos of the new environment, including the areas he/she will be walking through. If possible, take the teen to the new location before school starts and practice walking around the empty campus. Have him /her notice some visual landmarks he/she  will be able to see when the campus is full of students, and explain to him/her how to use these as points of references when walking from one place to another.
  • Prime your teen by talking to him/her  about the upcoming school year, the teacher and expectations, as well as any fears or concerns your teen has. Creating a photo album together or writing social stories can be very helpful. Even if your teen does not have good communication skills or is non-verbal, he/she can  learn to  understand and make the connection, so it is worth the effort to take the extra time to do this. Going over the appropriate behaviors and social interaction for the school environment can also be helpful. Many students find having a set of ‘rules’  for school behavior helpful. Focus on the positive!
  • Help your teen get organized to prepare for the school year.
  1. Use color-coded folders to organize the work for the different classes.
  2. Get a planner for your teen. Many schools have a homework planner, and your teen can use this to keep track of homework assignments. Show him/her  how to write his assignments in the planner and reinforce him/her  for doing so through out the school year.
  3. Designate a spot in your teen’s backpack for forms, notes and so on that come home from school, and make sure your teen and the school staff know where that is.
  4. If your teen is fully included in a school that follows block scheduling such as in some North San Diego County high schools (one day is periods 1,3,5; the next day is periods 2,4,6) you may wish to consider having two separate backpacks for the two different block days days.
  5. If your teen needs assistance to organize himself and stay organized (as mentioned above), his / her IEP may need to include accommodations, strategies, and goals related to learning these skills. Being able to get and stay organized is an important life skill everyone needs to learn

In my next column, tips on how to make the transition back to school easier for parents and teachers will be discussed.

It Takes An Army

Graduating high school was not one of the goals I had for Jeremy. Now he’s college bound.

In 2007, my son Jeremy walked the graduation ceremony at the local high school along with the other seniors from his severely handicapped class. On June 18, he will be walking the graduation ceremony again, in the same gold and scarlet robe he wore three years ago. This time however, he will have earned and will receive a full academic diploma. He has a GPA of 3.5. For me, this is unbelievable. Graduating high school was not one of the goals I had for Jeremy. The goals I had were mostly those based on functional living skills.

When Jeremy was diagnosed, I was told to find a good institution for him. I don’t think the medical professional who diagnosed him meant “college,” but that is where he is headed. People ask me how Jeremy made it to this point, and the truth is, there is no short answer. Like most parents, I started out hoping to find that “one thing” that was going to make a huge difference in Jeremy’s life, that would improve his chances of overcoming the challenges he faced. But I soon realized that there is no magic bullet.

Jeremy, now 21, has received numerous treatments, therapies, and educational strategies (some of which he still continues) with acronyms such as ABA, TEACCH, OT, SI, AIT, VT, RPM, and some biomedical interventions including methyl B12, HBOT and more. All of them have helped somewhat, some more than others. But the most important ingredient to Jeremy’s success has been the same that it is for all of us: having the right people as teachers and mentors – people who believe in you, who motivate you to do your best. People who see beyond the label and who are willing to see the person. People who are willing to try different ways of reaching and connecting with the student, when the traditional ones do not appear to be working.

Any tasks requiring motor planning and sensory processing have always been extremely difficult for Jeremy. My office is full of binders that include Jeremy’s task analysis and data sheets for all kinds of skill acquisition such as fastening pants and brushing teeth. When he was younger, many educators and other professionals took Jeremy’s inability to respond as a lack of intelligence, rather than as challenges due to visual processing issues and difficulties in initiating and controlling his motor planning. Teaching methods based on visual strategies did not work with Jeremy. He is not a visual learner, and his visual processing was not working correctly, but no one recognized that at the time.

When he started high school, Jeremy attended a class for the severely handicapped at the local school. When Jeremy’s teacher, Rachel Page, came to our house for a home visit and saw how I was teaching Jeremy to point to letters to spell words. Jeremy had been taught by Soma Mukhopadhyay twice a month, over a period of 14 months, using the Rapid Prompting Method she had developed, and I continued to work with Jeremy using this method of teaching. Rachel tried what she had observed at school and was successful. By then, I had had enough battles with the powers that be to even consider asking them to use an unknown method to try and teach Jeremy. (The year before, Jeremy had come home from the middle school with rug burns on his chest and back inflicted unknowingly by an inexperienced occupational therapist, and had ended up filing for due process when the school district refused to provide training. At the IEP meeting I had requested, the OT said she didn’t need anymore training. No comment.) I had decided to do what I did at home and to just focus on Jeremy having a safe environment at school and coming home unmarked.

Rachel then invited me to the classroom to show her and Jeremy’s paraprofessionals how I was teaching Jeremy at home. At an IEP meeting, it was decided by the IEP team to allow Jeremy to attend one general education class on a trial basis. This was a major victory for Jeremy at this school district at that time.
Jeremy’s most important growth period came over the next three years, thanks to Allan Gustafson. Allan was Jeremy’s second teacher in the SH classroom and is the best teacher that Jeremy has ever had. He helped Jeremy—and all his students—grow not only intellectually, but emotionally as well. To give you an idea of the type of teacher Allan is, read Allan’s assessment of Jeremy for an Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) meeting in 2006. It says it all about the type of person he is:

“Jeremy is a complicated young man who people cannot judge on appearance. A good metaphor would be to describe Jeremy like as an artichoke. Each leaf on the artichoke has to be taken separately, each having its own characteristics. As you go through each layer of the leaves, it becomes more apparent that there might be something inside, something worth getting to. It takes time to get there, but there is a heart inside, worth the time and effort to expose, as some people say is the prize for the patience of delving through the layers of leaves. Jeremy is this man.”

In June 2007, Jeremy was technically a senior and it was time for him to attend the off-site transition program, thus his participation in the high school graduation ceremony. By that time, Jeremy had made it clear that he enjoyed learning, and wanted to continue learning even if he was no longer on a high school campus. Some of his IEP goals by then included preparing him for taking the GED sometime down the line while attending community college. It was clear that he was capable of doing that, although I would never have though that possible a few years earlier.

However, Jeremy did not handle the transfer out of high school into the transition program well at all. Meanwhile, my father was dying from lung cancer and I was traveling a lot to helping him and my mom, who lived two hours away. I wasn’t able to work towards changing the situation. Bruce Cochrane, an administrator new to the school district (now head of Pupil Services), became concerned about the complete change in Jeremy, from a model special education student to a non-compliant, unhappy and disruptive person. Bruce started asking questions, studying Jeremy’s school records, interviewing teachers, observing Jeremy. Jeremy, still considered a transition student, was moved back to the high school where his behavior improved. He continued on a couple of workability projects, but started taking general education classes again.

Then, at an IEP meeting, Bruce brought up the question – was Jeremy interested in working towards obtaining his diploma? According to Jeremy’s official transcripts, Jeremy needed more credits in certain subject areas, and he needed to pass the California High School Exit Exam, which is routinely given to tenth grade students. Students are allowed six chances to pass this test. The IEP team recommended that the test be given to Jeremy the first time as a baseline, if he was interested in trying to get his diploma. Jeremy surprised us all by passing on his first attempt all the parts of the test he was given. However, for some reason, the school did not administer the essay part of the test, and Jeremy had to retake the complete English section of the test a few months later. Again he passed. Since then, he has steadily been taking two classes a semester towards his diploma.

This June, I am doubly blessed. Not only is Jeremy graduating from Torrey Pines High School, his sister, Rebecca, is graduating from the other high school in our area, Canyon Crest Academy. I am proud of both of them, and thankful for the educators that have crossed their paths, not to mention the army of paraprofessionals, therapists, support staff and other professionals who have joined us on our journey. Clearly, there is not one magic bullet. Rather, it takes an army, and we will never forget them.

This article was first published in Spectrum Magazine, June/July 2010 issue.

How to Teach a Child or Teen with Autism the Concept of Waiting

There are a few things in life that are certain: paying taxes, death and waiting. No matter who you are, part of your life will be spent waiting. Unfortunately, the “waiting” concept is not one that is picked up by osmosis for many children  on the spectrum. Hopefully, they will have learned this concept  by the time they are teens, but I’m still including it in this column because it is a necessary life skill everyone needs to learn – on and off the spectrum. We all have to wait in line at the grocery store, wait at the doctors office, wait for a turn on our favorite ride at Disneyland, wait at the restaurant for our food. Children also have to learn how to wait  at holiday events,  when traveling, at home for things they can’t have right away or to go out for a ride in the car. As children grow into teens and become more responsible for their behavior, waiting is definitely a skill they will be expected to use in the community.

Teaching the concept of waiting


Here’s one way of teaching the concept of waiting:

  • Make a nice- sized (4×4 or bigger) picture icon that has a figure sitting  in a chair, and the face of a clock on it. Put it somewhere convenient and noticeable, such as the refrigerator.
  • Glue a piece of velcro  on the big icon for putting a smaller  icon of requested item on it.
  • Have a timer available.
  • Have small icons of the child’s favorite items that he likes to request.
  • Have those items (food or toys) within his eyesight but out of his reach (but easily within yours).
  • When child asks for item out of reach, show him the corresponding icon, place it on the bigger waiting icon, and say “we are waiting” and set timer for whatever his capability for waiting  is at this point (10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute).
  • As soon as the timer rings, give him immediately the requested item. Tell him “We are finished waiting.”
  • Do this many times  whenever the opportunity arises and extend the amount of time until the child can wait longer and longer.

Each child is different in how long this will take or for how long he can learn to wait (and this will change as well over time).  Eventually when he is asking for a ride in the car and you can’t go right away, you can tell him “Not now, in 10 more minutes your sister will be ready. We are waiting,” and he will get the idea that he may not get what he wants now, but he will get what he wants eventually. This will lessen his frustration, and subsequently, yours.

Back to School 101: Tips for general education teachers

Tips for general education teachers

Back in August, I wrote this post for my Autism and Adolescence column in the, and I’m re-posting it here because I’ve received a few emails with questions recently from general education teachers. Maybe there are others who could use these little nuggets of information.

Often junior high and high school teachers have teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome included in their classrooms, and are not given much in the way of useful information. This column will provide a few practical tips that may be helpful to educators with no practical knowledge about students on the spectrum.  For more information, check out this webpage.

Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism (HFA) is often described as an ‘invisible disability’ because students on the spectrum do not look different frorm most students. Most teachers expect them to act like everyone else, but often the student gets in trouble for behaving in a way that seems rude, disruptive or non-compliant.  A diagnosis of Asperger’s or HFA is based on challenges in the areas of communication, and social relationships, as well as what appears to be an obsession or passion for a particular area of interest.

Here are some tips that may help the school year go a little easier for you and your student on the spectrum:

  • It’s a good idea to have a hard copy of the homework assignment to hand to your students on the spectrum, because most of them are mono-channel. This means they cannot look at the assignment on the board, write it down and still be able to focus on what you are saying. By the time they have finished copying down the assignment, they have missed your intro to that day’s lesson. This mono-channel aspect makes it hard for a student to multi-task, and by only requiring him/her to do one thing at a time, it will be much easier for the student to stay focused. Continue reading »

As Independent As Possible

This is an article written by Liz Breen  following the publication of my book Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, and was published in Spectrum magazine.

Author explains making the transition  from school years to adulthood

BOOKS   by Liz BcBreen

The unemployment rate among the special needs population

has been at 70 percent for the past 12 years. This

is according to a study that was conducted by the

President’s Commission on Excellence in Special

Education in 2002. The commission gathered this data as

it was researching what works and what does not work

when it comes to transition programs.

Chantal Sicile-Kira is being proactive about bringing

this unemployment rate down among young adults with

special needs. Her company, Autism: Making a

Difference, is dedicated to preparing teens with developmental

disabilities for their futures. Every day, Sicile-

Kira is developing innovative ways to equip young adults

with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the

working world.

The special needs arena is familiar one for Sicile-

Kira. For almost 20 years she has been involved in the

community both as a professional and parent. While an

undergraduate, she took a job at Fairview State Hospital

working with autistic people. There she not only found

her professional calling, but she began gathering information

she would one day use in her personal life. Twelve

years after she took the job in California, her son Jeremy

was born. Eventually, Jeremy was diagnosed with autism.

Sicile-Kira had already become a strong advocate and

educator in the autism community, and she began to put

her own advice into action. Now she’s offering her years

of experience to others who do not have a handle on what

comes after early intervention.

The transition from high school to college or full-time

job placement is one of the most important in anyone’s

life. It is especially challenging for those with special

needs. Why then, do they receive so little transitional

planning? Sicile-Kira is trying to raise awareness about

this issue through the work of her company as well as

through her new book, Adolescents on the Spectrum: A

Parents Guide to the Cognitive, Social, Physical and

Transition Needs of Teenagers with Autism Spectrum

Disorders. According to Sicile-Kira, “we have to make

sure people have the right training and information out

there. People have to start thinking outside the box. We

have to start thinking about unemployment not from a

social worker mentality but from a business point of

view.” Sicile-Kira is concerned about what the lack of

training and options will mean for the “baby boom of

autism.” Currently, the largest group of children with

autism is ages 7 through 9 – about 10 years away from

attending college or entering the workforce.

Most of work that Autism: Making a Difference carries

out is based on finding a young person’s interests. For

many children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism,

there are work opportunities out there. The key is to find

what will interest the individual and then encourage the

interest in a constructive manner. Sicile-Kira cites Steven

Shore as an example of this work. Shore is a leader in the

autism community and an author. He also promotes selfadvocacy.

As a child, he was diagnosed with autism so

severe that doctors thought he should be institutionalized.

At a young age Shore began taking things apart and putting

them back together. This is how he passed many

hours. Eventually, he became so familiar with the

mechanics of certain objects that he got a job in a bicycle

shop during high school. “Somewhere along the way, he

learned to transfer these skills,” says Sicile-Kira. “I don’t

know if he had a mentor or did it by himself, but he was

able to use an interest and talent to get a job.” Sicile-Kira

has developed an effective strategy for achieving this

goal, even when it is difficult to find where a child’s

interest lies.

Jeremy, Sicile-Kira’s son has severe autism. She could

not pinpoint a certain interest Jeremy had, so she found a

need in the community. During the past school year,

Jeremy sold flowers to his peers and teachers at his high

school. In the process, he learned about profit and loss,

marketing and how to be an employer.

Every week, Jeremy collected his orders, which were

placed on Monday. Near the end of the week, he bought

flowers and prepared them for presentation. On Friday,

he delivered the orders. Because Jeremy has sensory

issues, it was sometimes difficult to work in the noisy

high school environment. When he couldn’t make his

deliveries, his aid assisted him. In essence, his aid

became his employee. The aid received payment, and

Jeremy learned that if he used the help of an employee,

he earned less money.

Sicile-Kira first came up with this idea for mentoring

towards talents when she came in contact with the creators

of IncomeLinks. Doreen Rosimos and Darcy Wilson

have developed a program to help individuals with developmental


and other challenges begin their own microenterprise.

When Sicile-Kira thought about this idea in

relation to Temple Grandin’s book, Developing Talents,

the entire concept began to take shape. When encouraged

by a mentor, someone with a developmental disability can

“find their niche” and at the same time, improve their

executive functions and build self-esteem. In fact, one of

the major impacts of her work so far is the increased selfesteem

Sicile-Kira is seeing in the people she mentors.

Her goal was to get young people into a suitable work

environment, and the increased confidence has become a

welcome by-product of her work.

Just as her company is broaching new territory, so is

Sicile-Kira’s new book. “There was a gap in information

in terms of hygiene, puberty, preparing for life. This fills

that gap” Sicile-Kira explains, “After early intervention,

the high school years are the most important and very few

people talk about it.” The author’s first book, Autism

Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding

Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental

Disorders and other ASDs, included some information on

adolescence, “but then I realized there was so little out

there. Some kids are being cured and recovered, but the

vast majority are not.” Sicile-Kira wanted to give parents

and educators the tools they need to help children move

into the next phase of their lives after high school.

It was when Jeremy was in middle school and high

school, that Sicile-Kira found herself with little support

and few resources to assist his development. As Jeremy

moved up through grades at his school, she did not feel

he was getting the kind of guidance he needed. One of

the crucial factors in creating a future for a young adult

with developmental disabilities is to develop an

Individualized Transition Plan (ITP). These plans are discussed

in detail in Sicile-Kira’s book.

The ITP should become part of a child’s Individual

Education Plan (IEP) by the age of 16, Sicile-Kira

explains. “The ITP is the ‘business plan’ for the teenager’s

life. The mission statement should reflect the student’s

dreams and aspirations. The goals should tell you

how to get there and what is needed to make the dream a

reality.” The ITP should include plans for what students

are learning in the last years of high school and what

agencies will help him achieve his or her goals after high

school. “It’s important for parents to recognize that this is

a very important tool,” says Sicile-Kira. “I realized that a

lot of parents just didn’t know about it. When children

graduate, they might have a diploma, but many do not

have the life skills they need.”

Another facet of the ITP is living arrangements.

Parents need to consider the future and children need to

learn the life skills they will need to function in whatever

kind of living arrangement they choose for themselves,

according to Sicile-Kira. Ideally, every child should be

given the tools needed to become as independent as possible.

All of this information can be captured in an ITP, and

the goals of the IEP should be written towards the ITP.

It is also important to allow a child to have as much

input as possible when it comes to the ITP. If he or she

has any interests or hobbies that may lead to a job after

school, or has an idea as to what kind of job they want, it

should be noted in the plan. If a child does not know,

assessments should be done in order to pinpoint his or

her interests.

In addition to many parents not knowing about the

ITP, Sicile-Kira feels the ones who do often do not know

what question to ask. “Everyone talks about early intervention,

but people are not focused on the future. When

they are young, parents of course should be focused on

getting them better, but at some point, you might realize

that your child is not going to recover completely.” Sicile-

Kira adds that this is not to say that children ever stop

learning or that parents should give up. But, if recovery

never occurs, parents need to find a way to help their

children lead a fulfilling life.

Sicile-Kira says that feedback on the book has been

positive. Parents say they glad to finally have a resource

that deals with their main concerns. For many, these

include creating a meaningful ITP and planning for the

future. Another major concern for parents is how to

address hygiene, puberty and sexuality. In her book,

Sicile-Kira addresses these topics in a straightforward

and open manner. “All children nearing adolescence

need to have an understanding of what is going on in

their bodies and how to take care of themselves. Children

with ASDs need even more information and input from

parents at this time, and need to be taught specifically

about puberty and all it entails.” The author goes on to

explain how to teach your child about his or her body

while considering their chronological age and maturity

level. She offers areas of discussion that can be simplified

or built upon, depending on what your child already

knows and how he or she communicates.

An essential aspect of raising a child with developmental

disabilities is to teach them to be as independent

as possible, according to Sicile-Kira. An important part of

this task lies in teaching your child about good hygiene.

“Cleanliness is a contributing factor to self-esteem,” says

Sicile-Kira. “Most tweens and teens on the autism spectrum

do not independently learn what they need to know about hygiene

and self-care. Although it is best to start

teaching about hygiene, health, and self-care before

puberty, it is never too late. The goal is to teach teens to

be as independent as possible in these areas.” Sicile-Kira

suggests several ways to teach your child hygiene skills.

One is to make a schedule of when and where self-care

should take place. The author also discusses how to teach

these skills when your child has difficulty with sensory

issues. Another topic on which the author advises parents

is the necessity of teaching your child about relationship

boundaries. Often, children on the spectrum have

been taught to follow instructions – especially those

given by someone with authority. Children need to be

taught not to follow directions when they are dangerous

or inappropriate.

Whether they have a child with a developmental disability

or not, a discussion on sexuality is one that some

parents would rather leave to educators. Sicile-Kira urges

parents to take responsibility for this aspect of their

child’s upbringing. “It’s a sensitive subject because of all

the different religious, philosophical and ethical beliefs

that affect what our thoughts are on sex education and

what is taught in school and how it is taught. As parents,

you are responsible for your child’s ethical and religious

upbringing. Before teaching or explaining to your tween

or teen about sexuality, parents will need to reexamine

their own ideas and attitudes about sex, sexuality, and

what they believe teenagers should know.” Sicile-Kira

offers tips and additional resources that will help parents

have open and honest conversations with their children

about sexuality.

One of the ways Sicile-Kira is making her message

and strategies known to parents and educators is through

her Internet radio show, “The Real World of Autism with

Chantal.” The show discusses practical issues that face

parents and caregivers of autistic children every day.

Sicile-Kira interviews experts and community members,

takes audience questions and offers resources. The show

airs twice a month in English and once in French on

Autism One Radio. For more information, visit The author and advocate also

wants to start a non-profit organization that focuses wholly

on developing transitional plans for children with

developmental disabilities.

When she considers the success that she has

achieved with her son Jeremy, Sicile-Kira cites several

factors. Most importantly, she refused to believe that he

could not learn and never gave up on him. She learned

everything she could about autism, therapies and treatments.

She surrounded herself with people who

believed in Jeremy and who were interested in helping

him learn, and she never lost sight of the fact that it is

never too late to learn life skills and independence.

These tenets allow Sicile-Kira to carry out her mission

of helping her son and those she mentors to live a life

as independentl

Brave New World

13 Things to Keep in Mind as Your Child with ASD Reaches Adolescence

Living with a child on the autism spectrum day after day, parents often miss the little changes that are so typical of all kids’ development. One day I looked at my son, Jeremy, and realized he was already up to my chin. And what was that – facial hair? His behavior started to change as well. As a young child he’d always been compliant; we spent years trying to teach him to say “no” and mean it. So I was thrilled when he just didn’t want to do what we wanted him to do anymore.

Autism and adolescence: each on their own can be interesting and challenging, to say the least. Together, they form a volatile mix that can arouse daily anxiety in even the most prepared adult. If you live with or work with a pre-teen with an autism spectrum diagnosis, attention to the following 13 points can help you and your child navigate those years a little more smoothly. One caveat: it doesn’t matter the functioning level of your child with autism or Asperger’s; everything here applies. You’ll work them out differently depending upon his or her cognitive, emotional and/or communication abilities, but don’t overlook them, thinking they don’t relate to you child. They do!

  1. Noncompliance: it may not be autism, it may be adolescence. Whether or not they have autism, there’s a definite ‘shift’ in behavior and personality when children turn into teenagers. Wanting your attention changes to wanting their independence. For kids on the spectrum, this behavior change may look like non-compliance; they don’t follow through on your requests as before. But it’s actually a normal part of their development, entirely aside from their autism. As a parent it’s important to support your teen as he struggles to become his own person, and even though it may be hard to appreciate, this is a positive development. After years of being taught to do as he is told, your teen needs to start learning that it is acceptable at times to say ‘No,’ or he might find himself in dangerous situations with peers or others looking for an easy victim to prey upon.
  2. Teenagers need to learn to make their own choices. Giving choices to your growing teen will teach him about decision making and accepting the consequences of his choice (good and bad), as well as help him realize he will eventually have more control over his own life. This applies no matter what the functioning level of the child. Offer him choices, regularly, and abide by the choice he makes. Remember, as he gets older he will want and need to be more involved in his life and his transition planning. By letting him make choices now (within your parameters at first) you are teaching him valuable life skills.
  3. Chores teach responsibility. At any age, it’s good to teach children that being part of a group (whether it is a family, a work group, or a community) brings with it a certain level of responsibility. If your pre-teen has somehow been exempt from chores and group responsibility, let this slide no longer. Teens need to learn that living in a house with other people entails responsibilities as well as pleasures. Chores teach the teen to be responsible for himself, to live independently, as well as foster self-worth and self-esteem. ALL individuals with autism can be taught to contribute at some level. Do make sure your child has opportunities to do so.
  4. Watch out for seizures. One of every four teenagers with ASD will develop seizures during puberty. Although the exact reason is not known, this seizure activity may be due to hormonal changes in the body. For many the seizures are small and sub-clinical, and are typically not detected by simple observation. Some signs that a teen may be experiencing sub-clinical seizures include making little or no academic gains after doing well during childhood and preteen years, losing behavioral and/or cognitive gains, or exhibiting behavior problems such as self injury, aggression and severe tantruming.
  5. Talk to your child about his/her changing body. Imagine how scary it must be to realize your body is going through some strange metamorphosis, you don’t know why and there is nothing you can do about it. Whether your child has Asperger’s Syndrome and has sat through hygiene classes at school, or he is more impacted by autism and you’re not sure how much he understands, it is important to discuss the changing male and female body in a simple way he can understand. Otherwise, your teen may be overly anxious and agitated when she starts menstruating or when he has wet dreams. Visuals that include photos or drawings and simple words may be helpful, especially at the beginning. Be concrete and don’t overwhelm – this is certainly not a one-time talk!
  6. Masturbation: a fact of life. Let’s face it; masturbation is a normal activity that almost all teenagers engage in. Once discovered, it is an activity hard to stop, especially for individuals who enjoy self-stimulatory activities and can be obsessive compulsive, as are many people on the autism spectrum. The best approach is teaching your teen that this is a private activity to be done only in private at home, in a designed place such as his bedroom or bathroom.
  7. Relationships and sexuality: topics that need to be discussed. Sexuality is a topic that most parents are not comfortable discussing with their children, even their neurotypical teens. However, it is necessary to talk to your teen on the spectrum about sex and the many types of relationships that exist between people. It is naïve of parents to think that because their child has autism s/he won’t need this information. Teens talk, and invariably your child will be hearing about it from their NT peers at school. Whatever the functioning level of your child, he needs to be taught about appropriate/inappropriate greetings, touch and language when interacting with members of the opposite or same sex. Don’t leave this important part of his social-emotional development to locker room education.
  8. Self-regulation is important for life as an adult. An important skill for every teen to learn is the ability to control his or her reactions to emotional feelings and sensory overload. Hopefully, by the time they are teens your child or student has learned to recognize their feelings and impending emotional or sensory overload, and ways to handle the situation. In school this could mean practicing self-calming techniques or signaling to the aide or teacher they need a break and having a ‘safe place’ or quiet room to go to. At home, teens should have their own quiet spot to retreat to when overwhelmed. And parents: respect their need to do so!
  9. Self-esteem is the foundation for success. While children are young, start building this foundation by emphasizing strengths rather than weaknesses. If your child with ASD, no matter what his age, has low self-esteem pay attention to the messages he is receiving from people around him at home, at school and in the community. In all likelihood, the message he is hearing is that he can’t do anything right. Teens need to be told when they are acting, responding and communicating appropriately, as well as that their (considerable) efforts to do so are appreciated. Where there are challenges, it is up to us, as the adults in their lives, to help them find strategies to be effective. Teens can be at high risk for depression. Parents should ensure their teen knows they are valued and loved under all circumstances, not just when they ‘get it right.’
  10. Self-advocacy is required for independence. Eventually your teen will be living away from home and will not be under your protection. He needs to know how to speak up for himself. Start this training while he is in school. IDEA 2004 mandates that students be invited to participate in transition planning and this supportive environment can be good ‘training ground.’ Make sure your teen is aware of his strengths and weaknesses and how he is different from others. In this way the teen can gain a real-life understanding of areas he may need to improve upon or that require assistance from others, and areas in which he is proficient, or that are his strong points to build upon.
  11. Bullying is a serious problem and should be treated as such. Bullying can range from verbal taunts to physical encounters. At any level it is not an individual problem, but a school problem. Unless your child’s school strongly enforces a no-bullying policy from the principal on down, your teen may have a difficult time. Teens on the spectrum are poor at picking up social cues, understanding ulterior motives, sarcasm, and predicting behaviors in others. As such, they unknowingly put themselves in unsafe situations. At other times their unconventional grooming or dress, often stilted language and rule-bound obsessions can render them targeted victims. Ensure your teen learns the meaning of non-verbal behaviors and the hidden curriculum (i.e. the unstated rules in social situations). Enlist the help of a neurotypical teen or sibling when shopping for clothes or getting a new hairstyle so your teen has at least a semblance of ‘fitting in’ with his peer group.
  12. The Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) is your teenager’s business plan for the future. Second only to the early intervention years, the transition years in high school are the most important years in your child’s educational life. Skills your teen needs to learn to survive and thrive as an adult, in adult settings, should be the focus of this time in school. The ITP, mandated through federal special education law, is the roadmap for your teen’s future. Once your child graduates or ages out of high school, mandated services are few and programs have waiting lists that extend into years. Spend time (and include your child as much as possible) thinking about what he wants to be doing when high school ends, and 5-10 years from now. Then plan how he will get there and what skills will be needed. This “futures planning” should drive the goals written into his IEP.
  13. Parents, you need to take time out for yourself; it’s good for your child too. With all the responsibilities you have as a parent of an adolescent on the spectrum, you need to take some time out for yourself. Whether it is a short break you take every day to go for a walk, exercise or engage in a favorite activity, or a weekly evening out with your significant other, you need to recharge your batteries. This is also positive modeling for your pre-teen and teen. It teaches that life can be stressful and overwhelming at times for all of us, and that we need to develop ways to manage our stress, and enjoy life, not just l

Just the other day I was looking around the house for Jeremy, who is now 17. I knocked on his bedroom door. He opened the door a crack, one of his Guitar World magazines in hand. I could hear Panic at the Disco playing in the background. “Go away, Mom,” he said, and I did, with a little smile on my face. Jeremy is significantly impacted by his autism. Yet moments such as this remind me that he is first and foremost a teenager, with his own personality, his own wants and wishes. He’s on the road to becoming his own person, figuring things out in preparation for adulthood. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This article first appeared in the Autism – Asperger’s Digest,  September/ October 2006 issue.

Adapting to Autism

Carmel Valley woman’s experiences and books help other families deal
with the disorder

San Diego Union Tribune – April 2, 2006

By Ozzie Roberts
When talking about her 17-year-old son, Jeremy, who copes with severe autism, Chantal
Sicile-Kira, the author of two books on the developmental disorder, often says: “Things
happen for a reason. We all serve a purpose in some way.”
Her husband, Daniel, a quiet, soft-spoken
guy, will give you a bit of a different take.
“Why was my son born with autism? Why
did this happen to our family? I don’t know,”
he’ll say. “It’s just random selection. But
(we’ve) got to play with the cards (we’re)
dealt. That’s life.”

Clearly, Chantal, 49, and Daniel, 53, have
gone ’round and ’round about their son’s

The Carmel Valley couple have been
married for more than 27 years and lived
together all over the United States, France
and Great Britain. And together, they’ve searched the two continents in often daunting
efforts to find effective help for their son through the years.
The Sicile-Kiras get past their differences and stay united on one major consideration:
They both want the best for Jeremy and his little sister, Rebecca, 13.
So while Daniel supports the family as an architect, Chantal, who worked awhile in
recreation therapy for kids with disabilities at a state hospital, stays at home to be a buoy
for her own young.

In the course, she’s joined the executive board of the San Diego Chapter of the Autism
Society of America; she’s a national speaker for the cause; and she hosts a weekly 30-
minute Internet radio program on Autism One Radio ( at 10:30
a.m. Tuesdays. Every second Tuesday of the month, she hosts a program in French at 11

Chantal also works as a volunteer for the Autism Society, helping coordinate such events
as the organization’s sixth annual gala fundraiser – “All Out for Autism” – set for 6 p.m.
April 15 at Sea World.

Chantal wrote “Autism Spectrum Disorders” and “Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum.”
They’re two books intended to help families of autistic children guide them into living as
independently as possible and making their own informed decisions.
The books teach people about autism and about where to go to get assistance for children
– keys, she says, to coping with the disorder.

“Adolescents,” published by Perigee, a division of Penguin Group, was released last
month. Chantal celebrated with a book signing that was part of a fundraiser for the
Autism Society. It was held at the Poseidon Restaurant in Del Mar.
“Autism Spectrum,” also published in the U.S. by Perigee, and in the United Kingdom by
Random House, in 2004, won the Autism Society’s Outstanding Literary Work of the
Year Award in 2005.

She tells you that she put together the two books primarily on the strength of the
education she and her family gained through their experiences with Jeremy. “I figured if I
had all this information amassed,” she says, “why not share it? (Most) people don’t know
how to (relate to) autistic kids.”

And if the books help others, she adds, it reassures her that her family’s trials are actually
parts of the greater plan.

Jeremy is breathing testament to the positives, Chantal vows.
A junior at Torrey Pines High, he speaks very little and has even less regard for
boundaries. He’ll walk right into your personal space – much the way he did last month
when I visited his family’s home for the first time.

Gangly, with deep-set eyes, Jeremy came nose to nose with me, snatched my hat from my
head and stood, twirling it around, smiling all the while. He likes twirling things.
He’s a major pain with that, says his sister, Rebecca, only because she’s had to put up
with him twirling things out of her room for so many years.
All of that behavior is characteristic of his disorder.

But uncharacteristically, he reads and comprehends at a high school level. He types,
appreciates artistic things and displays a keen sense of the way of things.
“I remain diligent about getting what he needs,” Chantal says, “and I never let him give
up on himself. And he learns.”

With help last February, Jeremy, who goes to school every day with an aide, wrote a 21-
line autobiographical poem for a sociology class that he calls his “I Am Poem.” It’s
insightful and concludes: “Pay more attention to me and less to the label of autism. I am

He also likes to have fun, family members agree.
“I love when he and I play games together,” Rebecca says. “I love my brother. He’s really
very nice.”

Says Daniel, his dad: “I guess I’m still making peace with his condition. But I feel a lot
better about where he’s at in his development and in the systems available for him. He’s a
kid, and it’s just been positive seeing him develop over the years.”
Chantal says she sees her son someday living away from home in a supported-living

“And I’m OK with that,” she says. “It would signal that he’s ready for as independent and
self-determined life as possible – that’s my goal for him, for all kids” with autism. News Metro — Adapting to autism