Spotting Autism in Teens

by Amber Keefer

    Unless symptoms are severe, autism isn’t always easy to diagnose. Autism symptoms can be mild and IQ falls in the average to above-average range. Autism spectrum disorders affect teens differently so their symptoms and behaviors will vary. Asperger's syndrome, in particular, can go undetected until an adolescent enters middle school when social setbacks become more noticeable, according to Massachusetts General Hospital, School of Psychiatry.

    Lack of Social Skills

    Making few friends and seeming detached and withdrawn can be signs of autism in a teen. An autistic teen might come off as wanting to be left alone -- problems interacting socially with others are a classic symptom of autism. The inability to read social cues such as facial expressions, body language and changes in tone of voice is another sign. Although some autistic teens seem emotionless and act like they don’t care about other people, being unable to communicate their thoughts clearly, they aren’t able to express how they are feeling. Children who have problems communicating and expressing themselves to others often develop anxieties or depression, particularly as teens, notes CRC Health Group, a provider of specialized behavioral health care services.

    Signs of Depression and Anxiety

    Any child can get depressed, but the signs of depression are sometimes difficult to see in an autistic teen. You might have to observe your teen’s behavior over time. Crying, irritability and moodiness that do not have obvious triggers might be reason enough for a trip to your teen’s doctor. Teens on the autism spectrum -- particularly those with Asperger's syndrome -- might feel socially isolated even though they want to have friends. The middle and high school years are a time when teens are expected to be more social. Without effective interventions to help them learn how to interact with others, teens with autism are at higher risk for developing depression, reports WebMD.

    Problems Communicating

    Teens with autism usually have trouble understanding humor and sarcasm. They take what people say literally. Likewise, what teens with autism try to communicate to others can be misunderstood. Autistic teens generally have trouble initiating and continuing a conversation. They like to talk about their own interests because they find small talk difficult. Consequently, an autistic teen might appear to be insensitive or rude. A teen might have trouble participating in a teen sport or working with classmates on group projects. Involvement in group activities usually occurs in parallel to other teens rather than directly engaging in an activity with peers.

    Problems in School

    Some teens with autism spectrum disorders have problems with learning. Even if their disorder is mild and they attend regular classes at school, they might need educational interventions. The middle and high school years are a time when academics become even more important. But with the appropriate support, autistic teens can do well in school. Children and teens with Asperger syndrome or pervasive developmental disorders -- high functioning forms of autism -- have average or above-average intelligence. Others on the autism spectrum can have mild to severe academic disabilities, according to TeensHealth. A teen with more severe autism might have to go to a special school for kids with autism where class sizes are small and teachers can give students a high level of individual attention.

    About the Author

    Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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