I received a request for advice recently from a rather frustrated sibling who’s brother seemed to be doing well… until he hit puberty. Since then he’s peaked, maybe regressed, diet went downhill and has become aggressive, with yelling and breaking things.
If only I could say that the teenage years are supposed to go smoothly… if only I could say that there was some kind of therapy, or words of wisdom or even a pill that could make it so that everything would settle down and… and be normal. And I’m still talking about a neurotypical teen here. It’s infinitely more complicated with a teenager that has autism. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but you’re going to have to be the strong one and be there for them and ride it out and hopefully go back to how things were on the other side.
The autistic mind is an over active mind. Brain scans will prove it but you just need to be with an autistic for a while to see it. Lack of sleep, constantly obsessing over what they love, needing to stim constantly… there is no off switch. There is no slowing down the activity of an autistic mind.
When puberty hits, as it does for anyone, the chemicals and hormones of a person go radically out of balance and changes start taking place from head to toe. Emotional states shift wildly, the mind goes on overload and the body sends rapid signals too fast for the brain to handle as if it wasn’t already overloaded already.
When your brain is set to speed times 2 and it never turns off and you have to go through all of that… let’s just say that it can be a lot to handle for anyone.
It’s easy to become frustrated with them when it’s been happening for years now, it’s getting worse instead of better and it seems like there is no end. But the teen years are finite. Puberty doesn’t last forever. And as difficult as it is to remember year after year… your teenage autistic sibling is far more frustrated than you are. They have it much worse than you right now.
At the same time, when you have all of that going on and you just wish you could fix it, you just wish you could make them all better, you start to get frustrated with your parents, with the therapists, with the people who make the drugs that are supposed to calm you down, with the teachers… and on and on. Why isn’t anyone helping? Why isn’t anyone trying harder? Why are they doing such stupid things with their dumb ideas and only making things worse?
You have to realize that they care too. And they probably understand what is going on much more than you realize. But they are as frustrated as you are. They just as powerless as you.
I have only two words of advice on this…
First, on their wild roller coaster of emotions and attitudes and outbursts, there will be down times. Times of regret, hurt and defeat. They may be momentary and they may be a lot less frequent than all the other emotional states they will be in but in those moments, they will need their siblings to be their rock. They will need their siblings to be their role model. The ones to see them through this. The ones to never give up on them no matter how hard it gets.
Second, as much as it feels like it will last forever, it really won’t. I won’t lie to you, in all these chemical imbalances and changes, people don’t always come out the other side better off. Sometimes there is regression, especially for those with autism and they may become more secluded. But most often, with someone to see them through it, they stabilize and mature and move beyond that and forever remember the brother/sister that was there for them.
This might not be the advice you’re looking for but honestly, other than learning some coping techniques to handle aggressive behaviors or in handling your frustrations and such, this is just something that you’re going to have to do. You either decide to walk away because it’s too much or you stick it out and you be there for them.
Either way, don’t judge them for it. Certainly don’t hate them for it. This is beyond their control and not something they’d wish on anyone, certainly not themselves and certainly not you.
I leave you with some links that provides more insight on how teens with autism will change, behave, grow and even may give some insight on how to help out.