Rebuilding Self Esteem in Teens on the Autism Spectrum

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Self-esteem is a powerful predictor for personal success. Although self-esteem refers to the relationship you have with yourself, it is easily influenced by the way you are treated by others and how secure you feel in social relationships. For teens on the autism spectrum who may struggle with social cues and feeling a sense of belonging, their self-esteem is often impacted by other’s perceptions of them. Self esteem in teens on the autism spectrum is often greatly affected by these factors.

Teens with autism may struggle with feeling connected to other people, but they internalize social expectations as part of their inner monologue and value peer acceptance just as much as other teenagers. However, they are often misunderstood by their peers and are vulnerable to bullying and exclusion from social activities. Alienation, loneliness, and feelings of inadequacy take a toll on one’s self esteem.

Problems Autistic Teens Face in Establishing Self-Esteem

  • Believes situations are often out of their control, either due to bad luck or learned helplessness
  • Negative self-image, having internalized feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy
  • Feeling rejected or ignored by peers
  • Tendency to be passive in social groups
  • Valuing others’ opinions above their own
  • Trouble communicating emotions effectively
  • Becoming overwhelmed in social situations
  • Difficulty understanding conversation cues, such as when to stop talking or how not to interrupt
  • Trouble interpreting other people’s feelings or thoughts
  • Low expectations for achievement by teachers and parents, even with support

Ways to Strengthen Self-Esteem and Build Confidence

Identify personal strengths, what they love doing, and what they good at doing. Autistic teens have an incredible ability to focus on what they love and are passionate about their interests. However, they often judge themselves based on what they love, especially if it doesn’t seem to reflect the interests of their peer group.

Embrace the grey areas. Teens on the spectrum receive a lot of messages about social expectations and are more likely to internalize this in black and white. They believe that they have to be one thing or the opposite and that they are either right or wrong depending on what they choose. Encourage creative expression and flexibility.

Empower him to own their experiences.  By encouraging them to own their experiences, even the ones that don’t fall into either category, they are empowered to let go of some of their high expectations for themselves and worry less about if this translates to them being a “good or bad person.” Teach them to own their uniqueness, their curiosity, their sensitivity, and their imagination.

Encourage autonomy. Allow your son to feel like he has more control over making decisions by offering choices and letting him decide. Especially as he transitions into adulthood, it is important for him to gain a sense of independence and take on more responsibilities.

Offer opportunities for personal exploration. Encourage him to step up and take on roles where he feels a sense of belonging, either in classes, sports teams, or extracurricular activities. Suggest trying a variety of structured activities to test out his interests without feeling overwhelmed or feeling inadequate in a certain area.

Give positive feedback. Validate his challenges. Congratulate his on accomplishments. Encourage him to persevere. Point out his good qualities and his effort. At the heart of low self-esteem is a desire to be acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted, not necessarily accoladed.

How New Focus Can Help

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. The mission of the program is to use positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and a clear sense of judgement. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits. We can help your family today!

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