Teens with Level 1 (“mild”) autism give their parents LESS grief than do neurotypical or so-called normal teenagers! Don’t feel sorry for these parents.
Did you learn that a person you know has an autistic teenager?
Did you then feel pity for them, even though you also learned that the autism is mild or “high functioning”?
Or perhaps your young child was just diagnosed with Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.
For the purpose of this article, the autism discussed will be that of high functioning.
I realize many in the autism community denounce this term, but it’s something that neurotypicals can relate to as far as the individual’s level of self-sufficiency and independence.
To put this another way, it’s mild autism or zero to minimal support needs (Level 1).
Autistic Teens vs. Normal Teens: Who’s More Trouble?
The struggles or challenges with ASD come with some very desirable traits – traits that a responsible parent will place a high premium on.
These traits, which are far more prevalent or pronounced in autism, invariably lead to a better behaved teenager.
“Not only was I more reserved and often did prefer my own space, but I disliked breaking rules,” begins Jennifer Parr, founder of DIYvinci, an online retail store offering craft supplies, kits and décor.
Diagnosed with autism at 30, Jennifer continues, “I didn’t want to get in trouble and bring additional attention to myself.
“I also viewed rules as structure, and it would bother me when others didn’t follow the rules.
“I wasn’t one to necessarily tell on others, but it did stress me out when I saw others breaking rules — and I would feel almost guilty when they ended up getting in trouble even though I had nothing to do with it.”
Autistic people like to follow rules – as long as they are reasonable. What parent of a teen wouldn’t relish this trait in their kid?
“I was very well-behaved and introverted as a younger teen, preferring to stay at home and socialize with my siblings,” says Jess Owen, co-creator with her sisters of thewyrdsisters.co.uk and diagnosed with autism at 25.
“I was certainly a very cheap teenager; I rarely wanted money to go out with my friends or on big school trips (God forbid I should stay somewhere else overnight).”
I’m autistic too, having gotten my clinical diagnosis in middle age!
But this doesn’t mean I wasn’t autistic during my teenage years. I sure as heck was.
But it was called other things back then, such as odd, obsessed, brainy, rambunctious, impetuous, too serious and – yes, this is true – artistic.
I usually followed rules at school without question. This doesn’t mean I didn’t occasionally break a rule that I thought was ridiculous.
On pep rally days for the high school football team, classes were shortened to make room for the pep rally, to take place at the end of the school day in the gymnasium: All students were required to attend.
I didn’t want to sit there among other kids loudly cheering and clapping as the football team narcissistically trotted into the gym.
I preferred to be home getting a jump-start on my homework. So one day I snuck out. I broke a rule!
Jennifer also explains, “I never had interests in partying or doing anything risky.”
I second that. I have two older NT sisters. They were the ones always wanting to go out and stay out late socializing or partying, not me.
With me, my mother was never worried sick over “Where could she be?” or “Why isn’t she home yet?”
With me, my father never had to worry about “that new boy she’s with.”
I never went to a single party during my teen years. I never dated.
And my parents never had to hassle with prom-related stressors – I’d never had any interest in school dances or proms. Never.
• No boyfriends to make my parents worry about a pregnancy or have to deal with helping me through a tumultuous breakup.
• No hanging out with older boys to make my parents worry about sexual assault or being talked into doing drugs.
• No parties to make my parents worry about getting drunk.
• When I turned 16 I had no interest in learning to drive. That surely was a relief to my parents (I eventually got my license at 20).
• My parents always knew where I was on weekend nights: in my bedroom or the family room! Safe. Sober. Clear-headed. In one piece.
“I was highly focused on special interests such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings and would often hang with others who shared the same obsession,” says Jennifer.
“So, I think between having more ‘nerdy’ interests, having a need to follow the rules, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention, and being surrounded by good people and role models, that I wasn’t difficult to handle.”
If your kid is autistic, you probably won’t ever have to worry about them sneaking out of the house late at night to hitchhike a ride to a party, and then sneaking back in at 2:30 in the morning, like my very outgoing sister did during her teens while my parents were asleep.
Only years later did she reveal these misdeeds – to the shock and horror of our parents. It’s only by sheer luck that a psychopath never gave her a ride.
Pulling a stunt like this would be unthinkable to an autistic teen.
Now I’m not saying that 100 percent of every single autistic adolescent or teen would never sneak out to a party, take up smoking to appear cool, drink heavily because everyone else at a party was doing it, etc.
However, all of these behaviors are just SO UNLIKELY in an autistic young person.
Come on now, can you imagine an autistic teen girl wanting to hitchhike to a late night party?
Yeah, right. She’d rather be curled up in her room reading about human psychology, possible cures for spinal cord injuries or memorizing the periodic table.
I wholeheartedly believe one of my three brothers is on the Spectrum.
As a teenager he spent weekend nights reading science topics, watching whatever science fiction he could find on TV and working with his chemistry lab in the basement. He never dated.
My two NT brothers, especially the oldest, frequently went out and had girlfriends.
My parents must’ve worried sick hundreds of times over the possibility of a car accident and – despite their strict style of parenting – I’m sure at the back of their minds was that gnawing worry of one of these sons “getting a girl pregnant.”
Autistic kids and teens thrive on structure, routine and predictability. This makes them so much less likely to get into trouble.
With autism is a naturally high resistance to peer pressure.
Autistic teens have a natural avoidance of following the crowd and an aversion to doing dumb things just because they’re popular.
It’s fair to point out, though, that there are autistic teens who are argumentative and confrontational.
ASD doesn’t prevent being a product of poor parenting.
But sometimes it’s not poor parenting at issue. My mother thought I was very confrontational as a teenager.
As I look back, I realize that much of this had to do with the way my autistic brain worked, rather than copping an attitude and deliberately being disrespectful.
However, even with argumentativeness, sensory related meltdowns, super picky eating, excessive stimming and other oddities, these are small prices to pay for the absence of the huge and sometimes disastrous problems that are so prevalent among “normal” teens!