Obviously, adolescence isn’t something that happens on a birthday, but which arrives gradually, generally over the span of a few years. What are some of the characteristics of the early adolescent years? Many are also common during puberty and adolescence, but they’re being documented as early as age 10.
- Physical changes. Growth spurts are a common occurrence during this time. Preteens and adolescents may require more sleep, crave more activity, and eat more to supply their body’s need for fuel. They are also learning to adjust to internal and external changes associated with puberty.
- Emotional changes. I’ve heard preteens and adolescents referred to as having a “collage of emotions.” Mood swings are common, as hormones surge and change, and can be as difficult for the individual to understand or tolerate as it is for those living and working with him or her! This age group may be critical of themselves and others, and may intentionally or inadvertently alienate those around them, as well as possibly suffering from the effects of low self-esteem. Those living and working with them will benefit from an abundant supply of patience, flexibility, and understanding.
- Social changes. As preteens and adolescents become more aware of peer pressure, they may experiment with a variety of things in order to feel accepted. It’s important that they receive assistance in surrounding themselves with positive friendships and adult guidance and support, even as they are moving toward a desire for greater independence.
- Intellectual changes. Their ability to think abstractly is increasing, and they begin to notice more about the world around them and question the way it works. Instructional activities and expectations become increasingly demanding, and generally preteens and adolescents are changing in a way that enables them to handle greater workloads and the skills associated with them. Parents and professionals need to remember that an increase in height won’t necessarily correlate with an increase in social or intellectual ability.
The presence of a diagnosis such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can complicate the period of adolescence. We may need to be more intentional in describing the changes to an individual and helping him or her to see that rather than being a frightening or isolating time, these changes are common to most adolescents. We may need to go back to strategies (educational, social, sensory, etc.) that worked in the past but had perhaps been abandoned for a while.
The good news is that you are not alone! Whether you are living or working with a preteen or adolescent, or you are a few years behind, looking toward this stage looming in the not-too-distant future, there is much you can do to enhance your own success and that of the individuals with whom you are interacting.
We can have a more positive attitude about the difficulties associated with adolescence if we remind ourselves of the benefits associated with this period of life. Often, we are able to see glimpses of the adults they are becoming, as we watch them develop new interests and skills, have more “adult conversations” with them, and observe them responding more effectively and compassionately to the needs and interests of others. There are aspects of my own adolescents’ current levels of understanding, interacting, responding, and reflecting that I find very delightful. I certainly continue to learn from them each and every day, and recognize the fact that this stage of my children’s lives, like the ones preceding it, will likely pass all too quickly!
Best wishes to all of you who live and work with current or future adolescents. If you have tips, suggestions, or reminiscences you’d like to share, please post those on our blog at www.socialincites.com or on Facebook, or feel free to email us. We love to hear from you!