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“Could My Teen Have Autism?”

As many as 1 in 59 American kids receive an autism diagnosis, and most of them are diagnosed by age 3. However, there are kids with autism who enter their teen years without being diagnosed. Since autism symptoms can range from mild to severe, symptoms of teens with high functioning autism may not seem to drastically impair them. Even so, there are major benefits to having your teen evaluated if they’re showing any signs of autism. A diagnosis can bring many emotional, relational, and academic benefits to teens as they navigate this important stage of life. Parents can also receive tremendous relief from having their child diagnosed, as once they’ve identified the cause of their teen’s symptoms, they can better focus on what to do about them.

So what are some signs that your teen may have autism?:

1. Communication quandaries

Sure, all teens can be a little socially awkward at times. Autism, however, presents some distinct communication challenges that make it hard for teens to connect with peers, such as:

  • Struggling to join in conversations appropriately

  • Having difficulty talking about a range of topics

  • Using speech in an unusual way such as talking in a monotone or accent

  • Having trouble understanding and discussing emotions

  • Responding to questions by repeating them rather than answering

A diagnosis can be a starting point to help your teen understand their challenges and gain tools to build lasting friendships.  

Reading body language seems to come naturally to many people, but unspoken communication often eludes individuals with autism. If your teen has autism, they may struggle to read the expressions of others, refrain from meaningful eye contact, and show little emotional expression. They have a much easier time understanding clear and literal explanations as opposed to metaphors, sarcasm, or vague inferences.

3. Social differences

Teens with autism tend to have few friends and prefer to spend time on their own. While they may have difficulty connecting with people in their age group, they might be more comfortable interacting with younger kids or older adults since they impose less social pressure.

4. Intense interests

Most teens are “totally obsessed” with their celebrity crush or smartphone, but teens who have autism often exhibit obsessive symptoms in the following ways:

  • Fixating on certain interests such as geology or basketball  

  • Compulsive routines and rituals such as only drinking from a particular cup

  • Repetitive body movements such as rocking or hand tapping

  • Unusual attachments to certain objects

  • Repetitive noises such as grunting, throat-clearing, or squealing

5. Greatly gifted

The minds of neurotypical people tend to work several areas of the brain at once (social interactions, for example, require multiple regions of the brain to work together). The minds of those with autism are able to focus more of their brain’s resources into one area at a time, often causing them to develop remarkable talents. Whether they are gifted in chemistry, playing piano, learning languages, or memorizing baseball stats, teens with autism tend to have amazing memories and unique intellectual abilities.

6. Sensory sensitivities

While most teens start distancing themselves from mom and dad to assert their independence, teens with autism may also not want to be touched due to sensory sensitivities. Teens with autism may be bothered by the texture of their gym clothes, bright florescent classroom lighting, or noisy high school hallways.

7. Challenged by change

Teens with autism find calm and comfort in rigid routines and structure. Change is hard for them to cope with and they may become distressed or upset when their routines are altered. High school can be a hard time for anyone, but it’s particularly difficult for teens with autism due to its many changes. Increased complexity, changing classrooms, different teachers, and high-pressure social situations can make adolescence a particularly trying time for teens with autism.

Why a diagnosis is important

Teens with autism can excel in school, work, and relationships, but they’re more likely to do so if they receive support and understanding. Without a diagnosis, they may have a harder time accepting their differences and leveraging their unique strengths. If you suspect your teen may have autism, a diagnosis can open countless doors to secure accommodations in academic and professional pursuits, and our specialists can guide you through the best ways to support them.  

Dr. Amy E. Weir, Psy.D., is an expert in neurodevelopment and autism spectrum disorder. If your child is showing symptoms of ASD, Dr. Weir can evaluate your child to see if there is a diagnosis and recommend a variety of supports to benefit your child’s development.

Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting teenage boys through life’s transitions. If you think your teenage son may have autism, Dr. Sample can provide a supportive place to evaluate your son’s symptoms and empower him to reach his potential.    

Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D., is an expert in diagnostic testing and counseling and is experienced in providing therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder. If you think your teen or other family member may have autism, Dr. Torres can guide you in taking the next steps to support your loved one.

Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. If you think your teen may have autism, Dr. Shinn can provide diagnostic testing, recommend support, and help you become an informed advocate for your teen’s education.  

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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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References:

American Autism Association (2016). What is autism? MyAutism.org Retrieved online: https://www.myautism.org/all-about-  autism/what-is-autism/?gclid=CjwKCAjw9sreBRBAEiwARroYmwt4izLg3dJ_ZaXsClvHBhqaFiEgUwGrFpux1AMBJjpTeekibHMB3xoCZrcQAvD_BwE

The Australian Parenting Website (2018). Signs of autism spectrum disorder in older children and teenagers. Retrieved online: https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/learning-about-asd/assessment-diagnosis/signs-of-asd-in-teens

Hurst, Michael. (2015). Teenagers with Autism: Symptoms, Treatment, and Help. CRC Health. https://www.crchealth.com/troubled-teenagers/autism-in-teenagers/

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Accommodations for College Entrance Exams: What Parents Need to Know. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/does-my-child-need-accommodations-for-the-sat-act

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Could My Dad Have Undiagnosed Autism? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/could-my-dad-have-undiagnosed-autism

Szalavitz, M. (2012). What Genius and Autism Have in Common. TIME Magazine. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/10/what-child-prodigies-and-autistic-people-have-in-common/

Zerbo, O., Qian, Y., Yoshida, C., Grether, J. K., Van de Water, J., & Croen, L. A. (2015). Maternal Infection During Pregnancy and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of autism and development tal disorders45(12), 4015-25.

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Could My Teen Have Autism? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/could-my-teen-have-autism