ASD, adolescents and communication

If we think about communication as an individual’s ability to interact with others, the response to the interaction by others and the environment in which the communication is occurring, then for a teenager with ASD moving into and throughout the secondary years of schooling this can present with many challenges.


If we think about teenagers with ASD being 90% visual and 10% auditory learners then we need to develop strategies and approaches to ensure they have the opportunities to communicate and are not overwhelmed by the increased auditory stimulation which can be experienced in the secondary school environment. This can become a challenge due to the increased number of students, teachers and movement to other areas of the school for classes and recreation activities.

Typically teenagers will be able to use communication skills to:

  • Listen to information presented by a teacher, a peer or via technology for a minimum of 30 minutes
  • Demonstrate an understanding vocally of pronouns, possessive nouns, plural nouns and regular and past tense verbs
  • Present their own opinions and be able to debate topics
  • Retell parts of a story or play
  • Modulate voice to suit the conversational context
  • Present an oral presentation to peers
  • Write an essay
  • Develop short term and long term goals
  • Organise homework to meet due dates
  • Manage sporting events
  • Take on responsibilities around the house
  • Have a part time job

Often teenagers with ASD will struggle with some if not all the above communication skills at sometime. To help your teenager in the development of these skills the following strategies may assist:

  • Find a documentary program of interest on TV and have the teenager watch and listen and monitor their length of concentration, and challenge them to build this length over time
  • Gain the teenager’s understanding of the program content by questioning, getting them to jot information down using a mindmap
  • Transfer the mindmap ideas into an oral presentation for the family
  • Develop the mindmap into an essay
  • Identify for your teenager that this same strategy can be used at school and with homework tasks
  • Talk to your teenager about what’s going on for them and assist them to develop short and long term goals
  • Assist your teenager to develop an organisational calendar for homework and other events

If you are aware that your teenager will experience difficulty with the auditory information presented, the expectation to give an oral presentation and manage the different teacher requirements, then speak with the year level coordinator. Be sensitive to the fact that your son/daughter may find it difficult to still have his mum or dad talking to his teachers about things that other kids can manage easily.

The following are a few strategies that you could discuss with the teacher:

  • Let the coordinator know about how ASD affects your teenager and what he/she responds best to: less talking, clear instructions(preferably written and/or visually)the use of a visual diary via paper or technology to create a visual schedule
  • Advise the coordinator that your teenager needs ‘lead in time’ when there is going to be a change of routine or activity
  • Discuss whether a taped oral presentation is acceptable until the teenager builds confidence in the new environment
  • Discuss the option of using a technology device instead of handwriting notes and essays

The communication experiences that you provided during the primary years of schooling will have helped your teenager in their ability to understand the world more fully. By sharing strategies with the coordinator they will be able to inform all the teachers who teach your teen and your teenager will be able to access the curriculum more fully.

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