Confronting the Social and Emotional Challenges of Autism in Puberty

Puberty is a significant period of biological and psychological development, and individuals with autism may experience unique challenges during this time. Here are some key considerations regarding autism and puberty:

Important factors to consider about autism and puberty:


Social Challenges

Puberty brings about changes in social dynamics and expectations. Individuals with autism may face increased social challenges, as they may struggle with understanding social cues, navigating relationships, and adapting to new social norms. Social skills training and explicit instruction can be beneficial during this period.

Communication Difficulties

Adolescence often involves increased reliance on verbal and non-verbal communication. Individuals with autism, who may already experience communication difficulties, may find it challenging to express themselves or understand the communication of others. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems and continued speech and language therapy can be valuable.

Sensory Sensitivities

Many individuals with autism have sensory sensitivities, and these sensitivities may become more pronounced during puberty. Changes in sensory perception can affect the individual’s comfort and well-being. Providing a sensory-friendly environment and addressing sensory needs through occupational therapy can be helpful.

Executive Functioning Challenges

Puberty is associated with increased demands on executive functions such as planning, organization, and impulse control. Individuals with autism often face challenges in these areas, and puberty may exacerbate these difficulties. Supportive strategies, including visual schedules, explicit instructions, and organizational aids, can assist in managing executive functioning challenges.

Reproductive Health Education

Individuals with autism may require tailored reproductive health education. They may benefit from clear and concrete explanations about the physical and emotional changes associated with puberty. Visual supports, social stories, and role-playing scenarios can enhance understanding.

Behavioral Changes

Puberty can bring about behavioral changes in all individuals, and this is no different for those with autism. Mood swings, increased anxiety, and a desire for increased independence are common. Behavioral support plans and strategies should be in place to address challenging behaviors and promote positive coping mechanisms.

Life Skills Education

Young individuals with autism may benefit from clear and direct life skills education. This involves understanding appropriate boundaries, recognizing and expressing emotions, and learning about relationships. It is crucial to approach this education with sensitivity and individualization.

Transition Planning

As individuals with autism move through puberty and approach adulthood, transition planning becomes crucial. This involves preparing for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. Transition plans should be personalized and address the specific needs and goals of the individual.

Family and Community Support

Families and communities play a vital role in supporting individuals with autism during puberty. Open communication, understanding, and collaboration between parents, caregivers, educators, and professionals are essential in providing consistent and effective support.


It’s important to recognize that each individual with autism is unique, and their experiences during puberty will vary. A person-centered approach that considers the individual’s strengths, challenges, and preferences is crucial in providing effective support during this developmental stage. Collaborative efforts involving educators, healthcare professionals, and families are key to promoting a positive and supportive environment for individuals with autism during puberty.