Six Ways Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Learning Disabilities Can Help Themselves Succeed

Guest blogger Kelly Hutchins shares more tips for young people with Autism in today’s post, specifically those who find themselves navigating high school.  Read her first post as well.

success graphicSpeaking up for yourself and making your needs known can be terrifying, but it is something you are going to need to do throughout your life. Debbie Muentnich-Hayes is a Special Ed teacher from Joliet, Illinois. She has been working with young people for over 20 years. We sat down together to brainstorm six ways for teens to advocate for themselves.

Know Your Case Manager

Your case manager is the person who helps write your Individualized Education Program (IEP), and his or her job is to advocate for your needs. If you don’t know who your case manager is, go to the special education office to find out. It is important to meet periodically with your case manager so you can communicate to them exactly what you need to succeed academically. Debbie put it best saying: “Don’t try to handle it all by yourself, you don’t have to go it alone. There are many adults in your school who have studied to be able to help you get the most from your education. Special education staff have a passion to make sure you receive the education accommodations you are entitled to by law.”

Know What Accommodations are Available

There are lots of different accommodations that may help you in school. Here are a few accommodations that might be worth exploring further:

  • Seating at the front of the classroom
  • Extended time for assignments and tests
  • Guided notes (usually a handout where the teacher has outlined the lecture, but has left areas blank for the key concepts, facts, and figures for you to fill in) if you have trouble with note-taking
  • Using a computer or tablet to take notes in class
  • Alternate testing locations
  • Having someone read the test questions out loud for you

Attend Your IEP meetings

Your IEP is what documents your accommodations and education plan. Every year you have an IEP meeting that determines what will be written into your IEP. It is important to attend your IEP meetings because they are a key space for self-advocacy. You get to talk face-to-face with all the people who are making decisions that affect your experience in high school. It is not unusual for your case manager, your guidance counselor, your parents, and your school social worker to all attend.  If the school year is already underway, but your accommodations aren’t working, you can ask your case manager for an IEP meeting. If you do not have an IEP, but think you need one, you can ask your guidance counselor about exploring your options.

Know Your Learning Style, and be Honest With Those Trying to Help You

Your learning style is the way in which you learn best. If you aren’t sure about your learning style, you can take a learning style inventory. You can either google it yourself (just search “learning style inventory”) and take a few quizzes, or you can ask your social worker/therapist to help you figure out your specific learning style. You might also understand a lot of your strengths and weaknesses just based on experience.

It is vital for you to be honest with yourself and others about your strengths and weaknesses. It might be embarrassing to admit that you find some things difficult, but it will make your life so much easier. It is crucial that you honestly communicate with teachers, parents, guidance counselors, therapists, social workers and case managers. Not only do these people want to help you, but it is their job to do so.

Develop Successful Strategies for Studying and Homework

There are a lot of ways you can help yourself study outside of school. Your teachers, case manager, and therapist or social worker can help you find what works for you.  Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  • Using audio books if you are an auditory learner
  • Have an accountability partner for study time
  • Set up a good study routine and location
  • Noise cancelling headphones or white noise machine (music is usually too distracting)
  • Make sure to allocate enough time to study, because it will probably take you longer. This is not because you are less intelligent, but because American school systems are designed for students without learning disabilities

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Consider going to therapy or seeing a school social worker. Your case manager or guidance counselor can set you up with a social worker in school. Social workers and therapists are there to help you with all aspects of life, and will be a huge advocate for you in school. Sessions with them are safe spaces to process your feelings. The only time a social worker or therapist will break confidentiality is if you are a threat to yourself or others. In that situation they are required by law to break confidentiality in order to insure your safety.

If you are prescribed medication, take it exactly as directed. For the medication to work properly, you must follow your doctor’s instructions. Side effects in the first couple weeks of starting a new medication are normal, but if they persist or make life unmanageable, talk to your doctor. Do not stop taking any medication before consulting your doctor. Going off medication without medical supervision can be very dangerous. If you have trouble remembering to take your medication, try setting alarms on your phone and purchasing a weekly pill case, which lets you easily see if you missed a dose.


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