While the phrase first popped up when referring to the Autism Spectrum, neurodiversity refers to a recent paradigm shift in embracing infinite variations in cognitive functioning, including a wide range of IQs, mental health issues, and learning differences. This concept encourages people to reconsider what is considered “normal” and suggests that the social standards we’ve assigned as “normal” are actually only met by the minority of people. So instead of trying to meet “normal social expectations,” we encourage teens with autism to set their own personal goals.
While teens can’t change their diagnosis, they can change how they respond to it. Many teens with autism feel socially isolated and helpless. Instead of wanting to live a happy and fulfilling life, they often become focused on fitting in, or rather, reasons they don’t. Many people define normal as reaching certain education and relational milestones within a certain time frame; however, the stress it can bring can reduce its reward. We try to shift the conversation from “treatment goals” to “personal goals” to encourage teens to play a more active role in planning their futures and manifesting their dreams.
Consider your Values
We encourage students to live principle-driven lives by considering their belief systems and values and creating intentions in line with these values. Rather than focusing on changing behaviors, we empower students to embrace their personal values to motivate internal growth resulting in long-lasting change. Goals are often seen as to-do lists and teens with autism tend to see them in black-and-white. This doesn’t give them room to feel content with their progress if they are not seeing tangible results and weighs heavily on their self-esteem. Principle-driven intentions are more of a journey than a destination. While parents may form goals for their children with autism, they tend to be social goals, which set high expectations. People with autism have many strengths, skills, interests, and desires that may involve a different set of values. As they thrive off routine and structure, they are very passionate about pursuing their goals when they are not concerned about comparing them to other people’s goals.
Some values may include:
Be Realistic about Goals
Happiness by itself is a great thing to strive for but as a lifetime goal, it’s a little too vague. Goal-making requires abstract thinking and organization, which can be difficult for teens with autism to fully grasp. Many people get intentions and goals confused and get caught up in the achievement aspect of things. They may struggle to envision how they want their future to look or to articulate specific ideas. Recognizing that what may be realistic for one person may not be realistic for your own life, either in that moment or in general. This encourages you to take a step back and re-evaluate whether your goals are your own or what other goals you can make to help you reach longer-term goals.
Some realistic goals may include:
- Finding academic support
- Building a support system
- Learning adaptive skills
- Managing negative emotions
- Making more decisions on your own
Get Rid of the Timeline
None of these goals have to be completed in a certain order. While identifying short-term goals will help reach long-term goals, it will take the time it takes between these steps. Especially for teens graduating high school, there is a lot of pressure to follow a certain trajectory. College takes time, careers take time, independent living takes time, building the confidence to move in the direction of your personal dreams takes time. Visual aids like calendars and lists may help teens with autism stay organized and plan ahead, but can also create inflexible deadlines.
“Your future depends on what you do today.”
Discover Seven Stars Can Help
Discover Seven Stars RTC is a residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 struggling with Autism-related issues. The program provides acute care stabilization, residential treatment, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, skill building, and positive psychology. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 844-601-1167 for more information about how our program empowers teens with autism to find a sense of purpose. We can help your family today!
Since 2003, Dr. Gordon Day has passionately helped young people with a wide range of family, emotional, social, neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems. Gordon’s mission has been to help people find their strengths and their own passion for living a full and rewarding life. He is particularly sensitive to the pressures, frustrations and disappointments that adolescents face that can sometimes cause them and their loved ones to want to withdraw and throw their hands up in despair.
Dr. Day knows that you really have to understand where a student is coming from and understand their patterns of strengths and needs. When we truly know an individual and their struggles, only then can we truly help.
Dr. Day has pioneered the use of outdoor therapy activities and outdoor living as a dynamic and effective therapeutic tool for learning, confidence building and skill building. His programs provide effective, supportive and encouraging environments that help students find their strengths and power.