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Autism and Adolescence 101: How do I teach my teen the concept of "private"?


Picture icons to use to teach "public" and "private".

It is extremely important that teenagers understand the different behaviors and conversations that are appropriate in public, and the kind that are meant to be private. For example, touching certain parts of your body in public is inappropriate, and can even get the eighteen and over adolescents in trouble with the law. Having conversations at school that are appropriate to have at the family breakfast table but are inappropriate in a peer lunchroom setting, can get a teen labeled weird at school and prevent friendships from developing.

One way of teaching the concept of “private” and “public” that can be used with different ability levels is to use two picture icons, one of a fully-clothed figure labeled with the word “public,” and one of a figure clothed only with underwear labeled “private.” A good time to start teaching this is when your tween is attempting to have “private time” (the euphemism in our house for masturbation) in the living room, or is still insisting on running around the house with no clothes on.

Show your tween the icons, and explain which behaviors are private and should be done in his room only, and which are public and OK everywhere in the house. For those more impacted by autism, putting the private icon inside his or her bedroom door, and the public one outside his bedroom door is helpful. Then, you can remind your tween when inappropriate private behaviors are occurring outside his room, ‘That is a private behavior you do in the privacy of your room,” and take him to his bedroom and show him the icons. Same with appropriate and inappropriate conversations. An adolescent female may need to be reminded that is OK to discuss her menstrual cycle at the breakfast table at home (private conversation), but not at the school cafeteria at lunchtime (public place).

Teaching the concept of private and public is crucial to helping your teen understand what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior in public – a concept that will be invaluable as he or she becomes more independent.


  • Joan Campbell 5 years ago

    Excellent idea and thanks for sharing.

  • Chantal Sicile-Kira 5 years ago

    Glad you found this helpful!

  • Merryn Affleck 5 years ago

    Chantal, this is very timely. I have a client whose son has a hard time with this concept. I'll forward your article to her right away. Oh, and I'll put out a tweet about it too!