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The S.O.D.A. and Incredible 5-Point Scale: Helping your Autistic Teenager Manage Their Stressors

Helping autistic children manage stress

As your child ages, especially when they reach puberty, you will notice a whole new set of challenges in front of them. Not only are they going through the different emotions that come along with puberty, they also have a whole new set of social challenges ahead of them with their peers.


As Autistic children age they are faced with a much more challenging set of social situations in which they are more than likely ill-equipped to handle. In most cases Junior High and High School are the hardest on adolescent Autistic individuals because of the new social queues they must learn. They must figure out how to communicate in an appropriate manner with their peers, sometimes with no success without immediate intervention. There are measures you can take to help them cope though.

The individual things that your teenage Autistic child must learn at this point in their life in order to have a conversation can be daunting for them and mind boggling for you. There are things you’d never think of that they must learn how to do in order to have a peer conversation. Some of the things come naturally to other children, making it even more obvious to others when your child is struggling. So, what are some of the things that Autistic teenagers must learn to have a peer conversation?

Seemingly natural things such as what the appropriate length of a conversation and the normal number of individuals involved in a conversation can be foreign to most Autistic teenagers, there are more things than that though.

Other things that must be learned by Autistic Teenagers in order to have to peer conversation:

-How to simply start a conversation
-What they appropriate personal space is between the people who are doing the talking
-How to control themselves enough to be able to initiate a conversation
-How to control the volume of their voices
-How to engage in a conversation about a subject outside of their common knowledge (ex. Talking about something other than Pokemon)

Simply communicating with their peers must be so tiring for some Autistic Teenagers, which can lead to after school meltdowns and overstimulation. It is common knowledge that a lot of Autistic teenagers and children hold in their frustrations until they get home and then explode into a ball of emotions once they get into their own environment. Other’s will act out in school, some are prone to doing both. All the stress from school, coupled with the emotions that come from puberty and the common social issues they face can lead to an explosive situation. It can be simply overpowering for them.
Much like when your child was younger, at this age they may not have any clue that they are extremely over stressed. There are measures that you can take to help your child better understand the social aspect of the stress that they feel during these years. Many teachers and therapists use a technique known as S.O.D.A.

But what is S.O.D.A.?


S=Stop: This step prompts your Autistic teenager to observe their surroundings to collect additional information that they may not pick up on first, before interacting with their peers.

O=Observe: This step prompts your Autistic teenager to observe the length of the conversations of their peers, to observe the tones they use with each other. This step is used whether it is a casual or formal conversation. They are also prompted to observe how their peers start and end their conversations and any routines that the peers may have put into place.

D=Deliberate: This step prompts your Autistic teenager to develop an “Action Plan” to use in new environments and with new interactions. To decide on comfortable topics of conversation for teenagers, identifying paths they can take that may lead them to a positive outcome. Making sure they also focus on proper social distances and eye contact.

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A=Act: By this point in time in the technique your teenager is ready to interact with their peers or become an active participant in the situation at hand.

S.O.D.A. requires direct, constant instruction much like coaching. You cannot expect that your Autistic teenager is going to understand how to properly implement this technique without proper instruction. You can’t introduce it to the teenager and then think they will use it appropriately right off of the bat. These kids need strategies and instruction to help them understand their own emotions. S.O.D.A. can help them do just that, as well as help them understand their own emotions as they are going through puberty. It can also help them with impulsivity control and social skills. All points leading to fewer meltdowns and increased social interaction.

Another method that is commonly used with adolescent Autistic teenagers is the Incredible 5-point scale by Buron and Curtis.

The Incredible 5 Point Scale

In this method the teenager is presented with a “Meltdown Monitor.” They are then taught from that monitor to identify their behaviors along a scale from one to five. From there they are taught to recognize the stages of their identifiable behavioral challenges and their personal methods to self-calm. The Incredible 5-point scale is exactly what it sounds like. “A 5-point scale that is developed to help an individual understand and learn when emotions, voices, or whatever you are moderating is getting out of control.”

Why Some People Like The Incredible 5-Point Scale?

Simplicity: It isn’t difficult to break something down into 5 levels. It can also be simplified even more to a 3-point scale for teenagers who are lower functioning.

Objectivity: “By rating feelings and behaviors as numbers, they aren’t labeled as good and bad.” It’s all about teaching them that what we do to express our anger and manage that anger is what matters.

Flexibility: “This one scale of 5 levels can be used for a wide variety of emotional management, voice levels, anxiety and even understanding other’s behavior and social awareness.”

Easy to Use: “The 5-point scale, once a student has learned it, gives caregivers and students a shorthand to talk about feelings.” For example, a teenager could say, “I’m feeling like a 3, I better take a break.”

As one teacher put it, “You can use the scale to help students link how they feel with actions to try to reduce their level of stress, anger, voice volume, anxiety, etc.”

No matter what technique you use to help manage the social and behavioral issues that most Autistic Teenagers experience it is important that you help them cope. Puberty is hard on every kid, it is exponentially harder on an individual with Autism and their family.