These Teens Face Extra Challenges As They Start High School

It is difficult enough to raise a child in today’s world with all the challenges they face socially and emotionally as they grow.

But when you factor in special needs or dealing with sensory processing issues, you will have even more to handle in helping your child find their way.

One age group, in particular, faces an uphill battle in dealing with these issues, and it may be a tough transition for their parents as well.

If you have a child with sensory processing disorder, you have likely researched every resource you can find, spoken to occupational therapists, and found coping techniques that suit your child’s unique needs and personality.

But what happens when our kids grow up and are struggling to cope with their sensory issues as a teenager?

The teen years are fraught with challenges for any child, and they all struggle with being accepted and liked, “fitting in,” and establishing independence.

And this can be especially difficult for teens with SPD, and for their parents who must adapt techniques that worked when they were little to meet the needs of their changing bodies and social lives.

Teenagers who struggle with SPD may have a much more difficult time making friends and learning to take on more of the day-to-day management of their coping techniques.

They may have lower self-esteem – typically present in most teenagers, but even more so in teens that have to use sensory strategies to get through the day.

They are facing changes that cause them anxiety – maybe a new school, new friends, new expectations as they get older – and they may suddenly feel very different from their peers.

Whereas in elementary school, you likely talked to their teachers and they were able to practice their sensory strategies and follow their protocols in the classroom, now they may feel uncomfortable doing so in front of their peers.

Or teachers who may not be experienced in working with teens who have sensory issues may not understand and view their behavior as “goofing off,” being disrespectful, or purposely not paying attention.

While parents should still speak with their teens’ teachers, now is the time for them to be held accountable for self-regulating, especially when they may be embarrassed to do so in an environment like high school that is so often about superficial judgments.

Sensory Smart Parent reported:

It’s very difficult to get others to accept poor self-regulation in a teen, even if you educate them on hidden disabilities. Therefore, the sooner you collaborate with your teen in creating a workable sensory diet that prevents negative behaviors, the better.

It will be easier for your teen to develop better self-regulation if she is trained in using specific self-calming and self-alerting techniques that she knows work for her. Hold her accountable for using her [strategies].  Let her experience the natural consequences if she refuses to use her calming, focusing, alerting techniques.

Because this is such a transitional age – from child to adult – establishing independence is key.  Teens with SPD may shy away from new relationships because they want to remain around those who know and understand them.

But parents must encourage their teens to take on responsibility for their self-care and in learning and adapting their strategies as they go through hormonal changes, social anxiety, and the stress that comes with schoolwork or even their first job.

They will still need your guidance and support, but offering them ideas for coping strategies and then letting them make their own choices on what works and what doesn’t will encourage them to be more self-regulating.

All teens experience social anxiety at one point or another.  They’re going on their first date, a group party, or joining new activities at school.

Encourage your teen to find activities that make them feel comfortable, and let them know you are still there to help them find strategies to cope with these new beginnings.

Be positive and encourage your teen with SPD to be themselves.  Being different may sound terrible to a teen trying to navigate the social maze of high school, but let them know that they will soon find their niche.

Although all teenagers must learn to adapt to new situations, a teen who is coping with SPD may be more anxious and emotional, hesitant to welcome the new experiences that come with getting older.

They will likely have to change their coping strategies, routines, and protocols due to the changing schedules and expectations they will be faced with in high school.

Talk together with your occupational therapist and teachers.  Is there a quiet place your teen has permission to go when they feel they are struggling?

Can they keep their weighted blanket or favorite tactile items in the nurse’s office so they can self-calm in a private setting to avoid feeling embarrassed?

Making a plan ahead of time and slowly handing the reigns over to your teen will help them adjust and create new strategies and routines.

Smart Sensory Parent reminds us that,

Above all, never forget that kids with sensory issues need a “just right” challenge, a balance of accommodations to make them more comfortable and challenges that take them out of their comfort zone.”

Above all, be available to your teen with sensory issues.  Listen, support them, look for signs of struggle or stress, and talk to them about their new environment and routine when they enter high school and ideas for strategies that will work in different situations.

Author and public speaker Temple Grandin has spent her life advocating for kids, teens, and adults with special needs, encouraging them to love themselves for their differences.

As a person with autism, she struggled as a high school and college student to fit in, saying “I am different, not less” and that there needs to be more emphasis on kids’ strengths than their differences.

Your teen is not alone, and neither are you as a parent as you struggle to adapt to the new challenges your teen with SPD may face.

Do you have a teen with sensory processing disorder?  Did you have to adapt their coping strategies as they got older or did you come up with routines and protocols that were entirely new?  Leave us your advice in the comments.

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