teenandgrandpaGuest Author Siobhan Thomas-Smith

4th Year Medical Student

University of Washington School of Medicine

During high school I had the privilege of volunteering at Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Stanley Stamm Camp with several pre-teens and teenagers who were learning how to navigate the difficulties of adolescence with the added challenge of living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I was inspired by the courage that it took to face these battles. The psychosocial difficulties of middle school and high school can be overwhelming in and of themselves. There is social pressure to conform, academic pressure to achieve, and a new biological urge to seek out intimate relationships. For an individual on the autism spectrum, these physiologic and psychological changes can be difficult to comprehend and can complicate both the joys and difficulties of transitioning to adulthood.

A favorite podcast of mine, Radiolab, recently did a one-hour special on growing up with ASD titled “Juicervose.” The episode chronicles the childhood of a boy only willing to speak to his parents and therapists when masked as Disney characters, through his adolescence and school years, and into a home for autistic adults where he lived with his significant other. Attention to ASD in adolescence was also created by the recent publication of “The Reason I Jump,” the translation of a 13-year-old’s memoirs on his experience of the autism spectrum. A theme throughout both publications, and one that I have found common among individuals with ASD, is the frustration with interpersonal communication. Responses to gestures, facial expression, tone of voice and non-verbal communication can prove difficult for the child with ASD. These skills are integral components to living and working with as much independence as possible and improving self-esteem. While the average teenager may find the concept of starting a conversation with a peer to be anxiety provoking, it may cause an absolute panic attack in a child with ASD. While the pathogenesis of autism is not well understood, what we have observed is that the expression of autism is highly varied. As we continue to learn more about ASD we are beginning to appreciate the potential positives of the spectrum- perhaps providing an advantage in memory and pattern recognition. Uncertainties abound and are complicated by the vastly diverse experience of autism. What is certain is that ASD provides a unique perspective on the world that teenagers and adults alike should be encouraged to explore.


If you would like to find out more about living with ASD please visit the website of the Autism Center at Seattle Children’s Hospital: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/clinics-programs/autism-center/

The Seattle Children’s Alyssa Burnett Adult Life Center offers year round classes for adults age 18 and older and was created to help meet the important needs of adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental disabilities as they age out of the education system.

Check out the Autism Blog through Seattle Children’s. This is an amazing resource for parents of children with Autism spectrum as well.