Challenges in middle years

The middle years are a crucial stage in a child’s development. The middle years are a critical stage in which the following major developmental changes occur:

  • physical changes and early sexual development, hormonal and bodily changes.
  • increasingly looking to peers and peer groups to define their language, attitudes and self image.
  • increased likelihood of impulsive or risk-taking behaviours and emotional volatility.
  • seeking greater independence and autonomy.
  • increased cognitive demands and expectation of abstract thinking.

Challenges faced by young people in the middle years are further amplified by issues of self esteem and body image. It is also a time of formation of a greater sense of individual identity:

“They are trying to develop an identity but also struggle with doubt about themselves and who they are or are to become…what they are about and where they are headed in life”.1

The young person with Autism may find the transition from childhood to the middle years especially problematic. Alongside key differences in the areas of social communication and behaviour and sensory issues, a person with Autism may experience personal and social confusion over this time of transition.

The onset of puberty also brings about a time of key transition and young people with autism often need longer to adjust to and understand these changes.2 This is especially important as puberty, traditionally thought to be around the age of 12-13 but which can start as young as 8 in girls and 9 in boys. 3

  1. Brereton, A. Adolescence and Autism, Department of Education and Early Childhood Victoria, accessed 11 May, 2015

  2. Raising Children’s Network (2014) Children With Autism: Getting Ready for Puberty, accessed 11 May, 2015

  3. Mundy et al. (2015). Adrenarche and the emotional and behavioral problems of late childhood. Journal of Adolescent Health, accessed 4 March 2016 <>