The Middle Years

The middle years are a crucial stage in every child’s development.  It is during this time that puberty begins and children experience a number of changes, both in their personal and social development.  It is a time of mixed feelings for both the child and their care givers.  Parents often experience a combination of pride and trepidation in relation to the inevitable changes that occur as their child begins developing into an adult.  Some key changes that occur during the middle years include:

  • Children undergo physical and hormonal changes as part of their early sexual development
  • Children increasingly look to their peers to define their language, attitudes and self- image
  • Children display an increased likelihood of impulsive and risk-taking behaviours
  • Children often experience mood swings
  • Children begin to seek greater independence and autonomy
  • Increased cognitive demands and expectations of abstract thinking are placed on children

All these changes can challenge a child’s self-esteem and many children experience emotional insecurity in relation to their body image, self-worth and social relationships during the middle years.

“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 characteristics associated with autism can compound the challenges experienced by children during the middle years.  As a result of these characteristics, children with autism may benefit from individualised support to help them understand and manage the changes.  The information sheet titled Puberty and Autism Spectrum Disorders  provides practical advice regarding preparing your child for puberty, explaining the changes to your child, and useful strategies to assist with physical changes, emotional changes, social expectations, manners, maturity and personal hygiene.

See “Key Areas of Difference” and “The middle years and autism” for more information about the particular characteristics and challenges experienced by many children with autism in the middle years.  Practical strategies and useful resources are also included in these sections.

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

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:

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The middle years and autism

In addition to the key developmental changes experienced by all children during the middle years, children with autism may face a number of unique challenges:

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