Empowering Teens: Boosting the Self-Esteem of Teens on the Spectrum

Low self-esteem is often an ongoing challenge for teens on the autism spectrum. While they are often self-aware of their own interests and struggles, they struggle to communicate these to others due to fear of judgment or not fitting in. Many teens on the spectrum have a tendency to be overly self-critical and have internalized messages that they have “social deficits” that cannot be “fixed,” which contributes to a lack of confidence in their ability to achieve academically and be successful in relationships. Wilderness therapy is an alternative approach to autism treatment that is focused on improving self-esteem for teens on the spectrum.

Low Self Esteem in Teens on the Spectrum 

  • Believes situations are often out of their control, either due to bad luck or learned helplessness
  • Negative self-image, having internalized feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy
  • Feeling rejected or ignored by peers
  • Tendency to be passive in social groups
  • Valuing others’ opinions above their own
  • Trouble communicating emotions effectively
  • Becoming overwhelmed in social situations
  • Difficulty understanding conversation cues, such as when to stop talking or how not to interrupt
  • Trouble interpreting other people’s feelings or thoughts
  • Low expectations for achievement by teachers and parents, even with support

Why Choose Wilderness Therapy?

A wilderness environment can be particularly healing for teens with autism who have struggled to make friends with others and get out of their comfort zone. A change in their routine and environment is sometimes one of the most effective ways to help teens on the spectrum adopt healthier patterns and apply the skills they’ve learned back home. 
Out in the real world, the hecticness of everyday life can be hyper-stimulating for young people on the autism spectrum. Wilderness therapy slows everything down and allows teens on the spectrum to take a break from our fast-paced world. The slow pace of wilderness therapy provides an opportunity for these teens to practice social skills and transitions in a calmer sensory environment. 

How Does Trails Carolina Help Teens with Autism Build Self-Esteem?

  • Identify Personal Strengths.  Teens on the spectrum have an incredible ability to focus on what they love and are passionate about their interests. However, they often judge themselves based on what they love, especially if it doesn’t seem to reflect the interests of their peer group. Staff and peers offer positive feedback and support that helps teens recognize that their positive qualities are seen and validated. 
  • Build Social Skills. At Trails Carolina, students are constantly surrounded by their peers and staff. This can feel overwhelming at first for teens who spend a lot of time socially withdrawn. However, cultivating an inclusive group dynamic can be powerful for teens who have social anxiety or a history of being bullied. As students do everything as a group, it is a good way for teens on the spectrum to practice social skills and build a support system. Staff supports students by helping them walk through social situations and roleplaying ways to improve future interactions. 
  • Develop Stronger Study Skills. Many of the students we work with have struggled academically, as they find it difficult to advocate for themselves and stay organized. Trails Carolina offers an accredited academic program that is focused on the foundations of experiential learning. In small classrooms with hands-on learning activities, teens on the spectrum have more opportunities to find their voice and understand how class material relates to their personal life.
  • Overcome Self-Doubt Through Adventure Activities. Recreation activities are not just fun ways to socialize with others, they also challenge teen’s executive functioning skills. Adventure therapy is a great way for teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder to practice problem-solving, emotion regulation, and teamwork–skills that they have been learning in a group therapy setting. 

Trails Carolina Can Help

Trails Carolina is one of the nation’s leading programs offering wilderness therapy for teens on the autism spectrum who are struggling with a wide range of behavioral and emotional issues. This program uses adventure-based therapy to help students gain a new sense of self-awareness, confidence, and independence. The skills they learn through our autism therapy services offer long-term benefits towards their ability to successfully self-navigate in the real world. By removing teens from their fast-paced environment into a safe, nurturing, and peaceful environment, they are able to focus on improving and reflecting upon their behavior.
Contact us at 800-975-7303 to learn more about how wilderness therapy can improve self-esteem in teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: https://trailscarolina.com/common-ground-podcast/ With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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