Teen Treatment Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many families look for individualized therapy for their teen on the spectrum who struggles with social skills, as they are concerned about how they might connect with others in a group therapy setting. However, many teens continue to struggle socially and academically in outpatient therapy, as they find it difficult to translate the skills they’ve learned. Residential treatment centers that are designed to support teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder that struggle with co-occurring mental health struggles help teens learn and practice social skills in a supportive community.
The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.
How Does Seven Stars RTC Support Teens on the Autism Spectrum?
Seven Stars is a residential treatment program for teens of all genders ages 13-18 that are on the autism spectrum. Some of the most common issues we see among teens who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder include anxiety, academic difficulties, ADHD, school refusal, family problems, social difficulties, and mood disorders. Seven Stars utilizes principles of positive psychology to help these teens discover new passions and truly learn the extent of their abilities. Our staff has years of experience working with a neurodiverse population and uses a variety of evidence-based therapies to help teens become more confident and successful.
At Seven Stars RTC, we offer comprehensive assessments to help accurately understand the areas where your child is struggling and use this information to form individualized treatment plans. Students receive a variety of assessments, which highlight the strengths of students rather than challenges. This is aligned with our positive reinforcement approach. Assessments that may be administered include a social skills assessment, a speech and language evaluation, and a diet and health assessment.
Seven Stars RTC takes an individualized approach to therapy and academics to meet the diverse needs of our student population. With rolling admissions, students are able to earn credits through an accredited school and learn at their own pace. During their time on campus, we focus on rebuilding the confidence of students within a classroom setting and creating opportunities for the improvement of social skills. During off-campus adventure therapy, students experience fun and exciting activities designed to be both therapeutic and academic in nature. Students learn from their environment while participating in activities such as skiing, backpacking, and rock climbing. Every aspect of our program is designed to foster personal growth in teens.
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What are Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Teens?
Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a wide range of symptoms that sometimes overlap with signs of other neurodevelopmental disorders and learning disorders. While Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a learning disorder, it is rooted in executive functioning difficulties that may affect school performance and learning style. As school work and social interactions become more complex in adolescence, many teens on the spectrum may begin to struggle more during the transition to middle school and high school.
Some features of Autism Spectrum Disorder may include:
- Problems with social skills: Teens on the spectrum generally have difficulty interacting with others and often are awkward in social situations. They generally do not make friends easily. They have difficulty initiating and maintaining conversations with others.
- Sensory sensitivities. Many teens on the autism spectrum struggle with hypersensitivity to sensory input and different sensory processing speeds. This may mean they tune out some sensory experiences or shut down based on the intensity of the input they experience. Sensory processing difficulties can relate to anxiety in social situations, selective food preferences, and aversion to certain textures or fabrics.
- Communication difficulties: While they may have an expansive vocabulary, teens with autism often struggle with understanding metaphors or sarcasm. They tend to have problems understanding language in context. Their verbal skills are usually better than their nonverbal skills. They may be able to carry a conversation but have trouble making eye contact, using facial expressions and gestures, and understanding body language.
- Problems with perspective-taking: One of the roots of social struggles in autistic teens is related to trouble taking other people’s perspectives, not necessarily showing empathy. As they have a hard time reading other people’s nonverbal cues, it can be difficult for them to guess what other people might be thinking or feeling. They are also more likely to assume that other people have similar experiences and interests as they do.
- Limited range of interests: Many teens on the spectrum develop intense, almost obsessive, interests in a few areas, such as weather, video games, or a specific celebrity. Those with special interests in a particular area, such as an academic subject, have the potential to be considered an expert in that field, even if they perform differently in other areas. Recognizing these strengths can help set teens on the spectrum up for high-functioning, successful lives and careers.
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How Do Residential Treatment Centers Help Teens on the Spectrum Build Social Skills?
While in a residential treatment center, we believe it is important to offer experiential activities that help teens on the autism spectrum practice the skills they learn in individual and group therapy. When they first come to Seven Stars, they are often socially awkward and struggle to open up to others. While they may desire deeper connections, the ability to read, understand, reach out to and interact successfully with others may not come easily or they may find many social situations feel overstimulating. For some teens, they benefit more from experiential learning than psychoeducation as it helps them understand these skills in context.
At Seven Stars, students have a myriad of opportunities to create and rebuild social skills. Many teens on the spectrum struggle with experiencing the same degree of connection during group therapy or open-ended conversations and benefit from bonding over shared activities. Team building activities, recreation outings, and group activities help teens with autism build social skills.
While some teens on the spectrum may struggle to pick up on their peers’ emotions during processing groups, they may be more likely to observe behaviors or choices their peers are struggling with during group activities. As they notice choices that aren’t working in a team-building exercise, they are better able to provide feedback and support. Participating in group activities can help teens understand the underlying social dynamics or struggles with executive functioning skills that play out during these activities.
Through experiential learning, our recreation programming provides opportunities for meaningful challenges and learning opportunities. During off-campus activities, we see tremendous growth in social skills, as well as a student’s ability to try new things and get outside their comfort zone.
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