Being a teen can be both good and tough at times. Even though there are thousands of other people with autism, intellectual disability and/or various other neurodevelopmental differences (in this toolkit, we call this “neurodivergent” or “neurodivergence”), you may feel like you are the only one. But remember, you are not alone.
This Toolkit is designed just for you, but keep in mind that no two teenagers are the same. You may find that all the information, exercises or resources are helpful, or just one or two of them are. No need to go in order. Just use this Toolkit in any way that works for you. If you feel that you have questions or concerns that aren’t being answered, it may be helpful to talk with a trusted adult like a parent, teacher or another professional.
If you find it challenging to read the Toolkit, find someone to read it with you. Or break it down into parts. The Toolkit consists of information, as follows.
Facts about Teens Like Me
The Future: Education, Job Training, Employment and Housing
Independence & Organization: What’s the Deal with “Executive Functioning”?
My Life Planning Map
Steps I Can Take in High School
Life After High School
At the end of each section, there are examples of resources. Keep in mind that there are many more resources. Consult the AIDE Asset Map as well as advocacy or service organizations in your region for more information about what is available.
Facts about Teens Like Me
You may feel ready to try out new things that you couldn’t do as a child, and are ready to become more independent, make your own decisions, or perhaps step away from your parents having as much say in what you do. This can be an exciting and confusing time. Parents’ rules, puberty, homework, dating, privacy, and sex are examples of things that many teens struggle to figure out.
It is also important to know that many neurodivergent teens are living fulfilling lives, and go on to find jobs and enjoy life in their community. The more that individuals, families, schools, professionals, employers and others learn about neurodivergence, the more resources there will be to help you pursue what you would like to accomplish.
Tip: Find out about other teens or adults like you by searching YouTube, blogs, Facebook pages, Instagram accounts and books written by neurodivergent teens and young adults. We have listed some sources later in the Toolkit.
Photo by Jonathan Cosens Photography on Unsplash
Jill is 17 years old and has a learning disability. She is going into her final year of high school. Jill and her family live near the local community college where her mother works. Last year, Jill started helping with the stats of the college’s soccer team. She has been at almost every game, and has kept wonderfully detailed stats for her team. So valuable is her role that the Coach offered Jill a part-time job. Jill enjoys her job, but isn’t sure what she should do after high school. She is unsure if her strengths will be useful in the work world.
Like Jill, youth may be challenged to know what to do after high school and into the future. It’s important to know what to expect so that you can build a positive future. It’s good to have dreams, but you will need a plan and you may need to revise, adapt and re-set your plan. It’s also good to be prepared for some of the things that may make life as a neurodivergent teen or young adult more challenging.
The Future: Education, Job Training, Employment and Housing
Jill is thinking about her life and what she wants to do in the future. You may have similar questions. What do you want your future to look like? It might be easier to think and plan in smaller chunks of time. For instance, what would you like your life to be like after you finish high school? Here are some guiding questions:
- What do I want to do?
- Where would I like to live?
- Who would I like to spend time with?
Below is an Exercise entitled, “About Me”. It asks questions about you. We start with how you view who you are, and how you think about your experience of neurodivergence.
Thinking Good Thoughts About Yourself
Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash
Teens often have a hard time seeing themselves positively and are often comparing themselves to others and trying to fit in. A first step in understanding and describing yourself may be to look at how you and others describe yourself and your strengths. Learn to love your uniqueness!
Exercise: Reflecting on Me and My Strengths
You can data-sf-ec-immutable="" download this and fill it on the computer, print it, type or print words or use photos, comics, pictures, drawings or whatever else you’d like to use to create a story about you. Try to find words and images that are positive and make you feel good. You can share it with others or keep it to yourself.
What words or images do I use to describe myself? (such as: creative, funny, serious, outgoing, quiet, kind, generous, artistic, a whiz at computers, good at swimming, funny etc.)
How do I describe myself to others?
What do I like to do?
What is important to me?
What am I passionate about? (such as something that I love to do or am interested in. Some examples might be: caring about the environment, fashion, taking care of animals, being on the computer, writing, photography, crafting, helping others, etc.).
What are my strengths? What do I do well?
What behaviours, thoughts or feelings cause me the most problems or distress?
What would I like my life to be like after high school?
What do I think are the things about me that are similar to other kids my age? What things make me unique or different?
How do I describe members of my family? What were my parents like as teenagers?
How do others describe me? This could be a friend, parent, grandparent, sibling, neighbour, coach, teacher or whomever you feel understands you. (Try to focus on what others like about you, and see as your strengths, interests, accomplishments, and things you do well.).
You can then create a “Me Book” or a Vision Board that has words and/or pictures of your likes, strengths, achievements, photos, school reports and words that you and others use to describe you. This may help you see and understand yourself, and help you start building a plan for yourself in the future.
There are helpful resources and tools to assist in the transition to adulthood. One example is offered by the Sinneave Family Foundation. This tool may be helpful in thinking about and planning for life after high school and specifically, how to prepare for adulthood.
Disclosure & Self Advocacy
Disclosure just means letting other people know about your diagnosis (or neurodivergence), and self-advocacy means letting other people know what would be helpful to you in your life. What do you know about your diagnosis and neurodivergence? If little, it may be time to talk with your parent(s) or someone you trust to find out more. Understanding your diagnosis and experience of neurodivergence may help you understand yourself and what makes you ’you’, including how you think, act, feel, communicate, and understand the world.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Knowing about yourself is important in appreciating the amazing person you are, and learning how to address any needs you may have. This also can help others understand your strengths and challenges. Some people you encounter may not know about neurodivergence, and may need information to better understand where you are coming from. Fortunately, there is more and more information about neurodivergence available in the community.
Overall, the experience of neurodivergent people in dealing with others likely ranges widely. As one example, there will be differences in how much “first responders” such as police officers, fire fighters or emergency medical service (EMS) personnel understand behaviours and reactions that someone with neurodivergence may uniquely convey in a crisis situation. It may be important to learn skills to advocate for yourself if an interaction becomes uncomfortable. Some neurodivergent people carry a disclosure card, “passport” or ID in their wallet or bag to help in these situations. You can decide if this would be helpful.
You will also need to start developing skills to interact with your service and health care providers as you take more and more responsibility for your own care. See our Toolkit that helps teens and their parents navigate the transition from youth into adulthood.
Try This Exercise*
Identifying Your “Differences” and Discovering a “Gift”
Watch this powerful YouTube video about a young man who describes the gifts and uniqueness of being on the autism spectrum and recognizes his budding comedic strengths.
- What were your immediate impressions of the video?
- What did you think about how Michael talks about having Asperger’s Syndrome?
- Do you see Michael’s comedy as a strength or a gift? If not, what do you see it as?
- How do you view/describe/understand your experience of neurodivergence?
- What negative and/or positive thoughts do you have about neurodivergence?
- What do you see as a strength or gift that comes with your neurodivergence?
- What creative way could you come up to describe yourself, highlight your strengths, and let others know about you (also known as your self-identity)? (This could be a short story, a song, a poem, a comic strip, or… The possibilities are endless).
Ask and Tell: Self-Advocacy and Disclosure for People on the Autism spectrum, Stephen M. Shore, Ed.D
M is for Autism, Students of Limpsfield Grange School and Vicky Martin
Know Your Spectrum: An Autism Creative Writing Activity Book for Teens Finn Monahan 2019
Search up Teen Blogs by teens with neurodivergence on Facebook or Instagram and hear and watch their stories, experiences and tips
My Life Planning Map
In this Toolkit, what have you learned about yourself? What do you like to do? What do you LOVE to do? What are you PASSIONATE about in thinking about your life path?
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
There are steps you can take in high school and beyond high school to help set you on your way.
You could make a plan in many ways... You could use vision boards, checklists, charts or mapping. Imagine things in your life that you would like. This could include employment, educational aims, where you want to live, people you want to live with or near, places you’d like to go, and so many other areas that matter to you. If you’d like, you could draw this out, using graphics, stickers, colour, etc.
To being thinking about the future you would like, imagine your life when you are finished high school. Here are some questions…
What makes you happy?
What are your strengths?
What do you need help with?
What and who can help you?
What do you want to be doing after high school?
Are you suited for or interested in trade school, college or university?
Who do you want to spend time with?
What skills do you need to be learning and practicing?
What resources or supports will you need?
Where do you want to live?
What is your financial plan?
Steps I Can Take in High School
Get some real-life experience (take on a chore or two at home, help out a neighbour, for example).
Join a structured activity at your school or in your community.
Get some experience living away from home by going to a weekend or summer camp.
Explore your passions.
Develop skills and healthy ways of being: independence, social skills, executive functioning, managing challenges, processing sensory experiences, wellness.
Put together a resume.
Learn interviewing skills.
Seek a part-time job.
Look for an internship.
Find a mentor.
Life After High School
The good news is that there are many options. Some teens go to trade school, college or university, and some take a different path. Every teen is unique and can choose a path that suits them.
Photo by MD Duran on Unsplash
Here are some pathways to consider. Some of these options may fit for you, or you may find a different one.
Co-Operative Education Programs
You can find out more about what’s needed to be admitted to a college co-operative program and what kinds of accessibility supports are available through the college or university’s Accessible Learning Offices. For example, students with various disabilities have access to the Inclusive Education program available at Ontario colleges through the Community Education through Co-operative Education Programs (CICE).
- Financial Support:
Scholarships, awards and loans are available for students with disabilities. For more information, check with the school guidance counsellor or others who have knowledge about the post-secondary education system (see the AIDE Toolkit on post-secondary education funding).
Maybe you have a special interest in something like cooking, graphic arts, design or animation. There are specialty schools that may offer a good option, and lead to an interesting career.
Internships offer an opportunity for teens and young adults to “try out” jobs while getting paid to get some experience, learn from mentors and develop skills. Here are few to consider, although you may also discover informal internships through your own network.
Career Launcher is available through Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICAN) Career Launcher Internship programs. It connects employers with skilled graduates and may contribute to an intern’s salary. Internship programs are available in Clean Technology, Natural Resources and Digital Technology.
College & University
Many colleges and universities offer accommodations and disability services to help students with their academic work and navigating the campus. There are resources to help you with applying for post-secondary education admission and related financial support.
Here are some possible questions to ask when looking for a post-secondary educational program:
- Is there support to help with social and communication needs?
- What accommodations are available to support academic work?
- What assistance is available to help figure out where to go and how to get what I need on campus?
- What will I need to be admitted into the program?
- What financial supports are available?
- How will I be evaluated?
Pre-Employment or Employment Support Training Programs
Try out an employment readiness program to help you develop the skills that you will need to find and keep a job. You may want to check out readiness and support programs such as , and . Other programs are available across the country (see AIDE Canada’s Asset Map for more options and/or check with local service, advocacy or support resources).
Coaching and Independent Facilitators
You may find it helpful to work with a Life or Job Coach or an Independent Facilitator who can help guide you with tasks like looking for a job or living on your own in the community.
Jobs and Careers
Look for opportunities to get started in a job or explore a career. It may be helpful for you to start a LinkedIn account. There are lots of services that will also help you learn skills like preparing for an interview or putting together a job application.
Starting your own Business or Social Enterprise
You may discover that you have a skill, talent or idea that is well suited for creating your own business. This may require creativity and partnerships, but may be an option for some individuals. For example, this is the approach that autistic self-advocate Dan Tenveen of ‘’ took when he created a non-profit social enterprise that supports and promotes the inclusion of autistic individuals in the arts.
There are many organizations that offer employment to young people with autism and intellectual disability. Here are some tips on getting ready for and seeking a job. There are organizations across Canada that offer jobs or job support to youth and adults with intellectual disability and autism. Do some research and look into organizations like: Goodwill Industries, Jobmatch/Community Living, Jobworx/Community Living, and many more.
Create a resume. There are templates available online to create a resume. It will help you present a positive image, demonstrate your strengths, and show others what you are capable of.
Use Planning Guides and Assessments. Find out about how to get a vocational, situational or career assessment. These types of assessments can help you figure out what roles and tasks you are interested in, accommodations you might need, and skills that may be helpful to work on.
Seek opportunities to practice interviewing skills and communication skills that are used in the workplace.
Look for organizations in your community that are hiring people and specifically, if needed, organizations that are open to accommodations that make work more suitable. You can contact the programs listed above such as EmploymentWorks or Ready, Willing and Able as well as other resources across Canada.
You may be feeling both excited and nervous if you’re thinking about where you want to live after high school. There are lots of options depending on your abilities, preferences and the support that you may need. Search for what housing supports may be available in your community and “practice” living away from home through organized summer camps, overnights and/or university/college residence opportunities.
There are options like: community homes, semi-independent living or fully independent living with support or living at home, as examples.
Photo by Victor Ballesteros on Unsplash
As you get older and are becoming more independent, services may be available to help with personal, health, living and education costs. You will likely need to look into and apply to financial programs that support tax credits, medication coverage and health benefits that you are eligible for. For further information and planning, it may be helpful to contact your local autism or intellectual disability advocacy organization or a financial planner knowledgeable in this field. Below are some resources.
Canada has a website, that provides a directory of disability services and contacts and websites for most post-secondary schools in Canada. NEADS also lists resources about education funding (awards, scholarships and loan), preparing job applications and for job interviews and much more.
The Neuordiverse Workplace: An Employer’s Guide to Managing and Working with Neurodivergent Employees, Clients and Customers, Victoria Honeybourne, 2019
Preparing for Life: The Complete Guide for Transitioning to Adulthood for Those with Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome – Baker, Dr. Jed, Future Horizons, Inc. Arlington, TX USA 2005
What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It! A guide for teens - Bachel, Beverly K., Free Spirit Publishing, Inc. Minneapolis, MN USA 2001
See various support and advocacy organizations related to specific neurodiversities.
MORE AIDE CANADA TOOLKITS FOR YOUTH…
Thank you for reviewing this Toolkit. We invite you to also read the corresponding Toolkits in AIDE Canada’s Teen Toolkit Series. The other Toolkits are: