Adolescence is a period of self-discovery and identity formation. For LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, and others) teens and those with autism, this journey can be uniquely challenging due to the distinctive experiences and obstacles they encounter. For a teen who is LGBTQ+ and autistic, the combination of the various obstacles or social experiences they may navigate could require more support than teens working on one of these identity spectrums.
As a parent or guardian, your role in providing support and understanding is crucial to ensure your teen feels loved, accepted, and empowered. In this blog post, we’ll explore seven ways to support your LGBTQ+ and autistic teen in their journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment.
1. Educate Yourself
The first step in supporting your teen, whether LGBTQ+, autistic, or both, is to educate yourself about their experiences and personal needs. For LGBTQ+ teens, understanding the terminology and challenges faced by individuals in the Queer community can help you provide informed support. Likewise, learning about autism spectrum disorders and possible sensory sensitivities is essential to comprehending your autistic teen’s world.
Use what you learn about these communities to hold space for conversations to learn more about your teen as an individual. Be curious and respectful. Use active listening skills and ask questions to understand how they currently relate—and how they want to relate—to their intersectional identity.
If your teen is still learning about their identity, consider creating visual aids to support their own education. Visual aids, such as schedules and diagrams, can benefit both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens. These educational resources are predictiole and structured, reducing anxiety and confusion while providing a simple reference point. Visual cues can help teens navigate daily routines and tasks or help them see where they fit as they explore a new spectrum of understanding.
2. Create a Safe and Welcoming Environment
Building a safe and welcoming environment is vital for both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens. Encourage open dialogue where your teen feels comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns. This fosters a sense of security and trust, allowing them to confide in you about their experiences.
By learning more about their preferences, identity, and individual expression, you can be an advocate for them in social scenarios. Always be sure to ask your teen what is okay to share with others, and let them take the lead in those identity-focused conversations whenever possible. Showing up for your teen helps them see that you care about them and will create safe spaces for them wherever you go.
3. Respect and Validate Their Identity
Respect and validation are key components of supporting both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens. Acknowledge your teen’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or sensory needs. Using preferred pronouns and accommodating their sensory sensitivities demonstrates your commitment to their well-being and comfort.
Helping your teen connect with others with similar intersectional identities can be a great way to honor their individuality. While mutual respect and validation can go a long way, sometimes, conversations among people with shared experiences can provide a deeper level of validation.
4. Establish Clear Rules and Boundaries
Structure is beneficial for both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens. Clearly defined rules and expectations create predictability, reducing anxiety and promoting understanding. This structure can be particularly important for autistic teens, helping them navigate daily life more comfortably.
For youth exploring their identity and sexuality, it’s important to have clear conversations about possible familial, cultural, and personal expectations. Prioritize conversations around emotional and physical safety. Make sure to hold space for open communication with your teen, be open to flexibility in your boundaries while being clear on what strict rules they may need to respect.
5. Create Calm Spaces
Both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens can benefit from calming environments. Minimize overwhelming stimuli such as bright lights and loud noises. Personalize their space with colors they love, comfortable furnishings, and sensory supports like weighted blankets to provide a retreat from external stressors.
For autistic teens, sensory input and output are essential for self-regulation. Offer sensory tools like tactile activities to help them feel grounded and at ease. Check in and allow your teen to communicate their sensory or design preferences so that their environment can be tailored to their needs. Consider if they can collaborate with you on creating the space.
6. Foster Independence and Exploration
Both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens thrive when given opportunities for independence. Encourage decision-making and responsibilities, as well as the exploration of new experiences. This can help boost their self-esteem and confidence, ultimately contributing to their overall well-being.
For LGBTQ+ teens, finding supportive groups, both online and offline, can provide a sense of belonging, peer understanding, and guidance from those who share similar experiences. Similarly, for autistic teens, connecting with others with similar sensory sensitivities and experiences can be immensely beneficial.
While encouraging community connection, it’s crucial to reinforce the importance of clear boundaries and rules within these spaces. Just as you establish rules at home, help your teen understand the significance of community guidelines and respecting the boundaries of others. This helps them navigate social interactions while building healthy relationships within their chosen communities.
7. Seek Professional Support For Your Teen and Yourself
Professional support can be invaluable for both LGBTQ+ and autistic teens. Connect with LGBTQ+-friendly therapists and counselors who specialize in working with these individuals. Likewise, consider reaching out to professionals with experience in autism to provide additional guidance and strategies.
If you find it challenging to create a supportive environment for your teen, consider seeking guidance from professionals who specialize in supporting LGBTQ+ and autistic individuals. At Discover Seven Stars, we offer comprehensive programs tailored to the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth and those with autism. Our commitment is to provide a safe, inclusive, and nurturing space where teens can thrive.
In conclusion, supporting your LGBTQ+ and autistic teen requires understanding, empathy, and a commitment to creating an environment where they can flourish. By combining strategies from both blog posts, you can tailor your support to meet your teen’s specific needs, fostering their self-discovery and self-acceptance journey. Contact Discover Seven Stars to learn more about how we can help your teen on their path to a brighter future.
As a Primary Therapist at Seven Stars, Rachelle Manco works closely with students and their families to create individualized treatment plans for each student. Rachelle received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University and has experience working with young people as a social worker and substance abuse therapist.