While Autism is considered a developmental disorder and is often diagnosed in early childhood, some signs of autism become more noticeable in adolescence. When autism is diagnosed in teens, they may struggle more to accept their diagnosis as they haven’t had years of support to understand what it means. During adolescence, social and behavioral differences can become more obvious as teens respond to the social and educational challenges of school and friendships. As signs of autism fall along a spectrum, timing of diagnosis does not indicate level of functioning. For many, receiving a diagnosis helps them understand why they have felt different from others or struggled with other mental health issues like depression or anxiety.
Reasons Why Autism is Diagnosed in Teens
It is common for teens to get a late diagnosis if they are “high functioning” or haven’t had trouble academically in elementary school. As academic and social pressures increase and social rules become more complex, teens with autism may have more trouble adjusting and struggle in areas they hadn’t seemed to before. While autism is a life-long disorder that usually requires an early onset of symptoms, they may not be recognized until later if they are more subtle in childhood.
- Higher intelligence and language skills may mask symptoms of autism.
- Girls are more likely to receive later diagnoses than boys, as it’s more easily identified in boys. Girls are better at compensating for social difficulties due to their more social and empathetic nature and ability to imitate typical social behavior.
- They may have been diagnosed with other related diagnoses, like ADHD, OCD, Social Anxiety Disorder, or depression.
Starting high school often triggers feelings of anxiety and makes teenagers with Autism feel overwhelmed, withdraw socially, and feel like they don’t fit in. Some older children and teenagers might find it difficult to adjust to having a diagnosis. Children who were diagnosed when they were younger have grown up with their diagnoses as part of who they are. But an older child can feel confused about what this means about who she is now and whether anything has changed about how other people see them.
Diagnosing Autism in Teens
- Problems forming friendships
- Finding it easier to form friendships online
- Expressing that they don’t fit in
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Easily overwhelmed by sensory input or crowded places
- Difficulty expressing emotions
- Academic challenges in areas of abstract thinking and time management
Ways to Support your Teen with Autism
- Talk to your teen openly about it. They may have a lot of questions about what Autism is or what it means for them. While you may not know all the answers, they may just need a sounding board to voice their concerns. It is important that they feel like your relationship hasn’t changed and that you are willing to help them understand it together. Help them focus on their strengths while being willing to talk about things they find challenging.
- Educate yourself. It is often just as hard for parents to come to terms with what Autism is and how they can help. You may not know anything about it or may have only heard selective information. While ultimately your teen will need to know how to advocate for themselves, you are their biggest supporter.
- Look for additional resources. You are not alone in trying to understand your teen’s diagnosis. Talking to professionals, teachers, and other parents of teens with autism helps you understand the bigger picture and find support for your whole family, as well as your teen. They may need more help in school or you may be able to find support groups, extracurricular activities, or programs that will help them thrive.
Discover Seven Stars Can Help
Discover Seven Stars RTC is a small residential treatment program for young men and women ages 13-17 struggling with Autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Our program, based on positive psychology, provides acute care stabilization, academic programs, adventure-based therapy, and skill building. These various programs and therapies help students to improve their confidence, self-awareness, and personal management. Seven Stars provides students with individualized access to the resources they need to transition to the real-world practicing healthier habits and self-control. We can help your family today!
For more information about autism in teens, contact us at 844-601-1167.
Since 2003, Dr. Gordon Day has passionately helped young people with a wide range of family, emotional, social, neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems. Gordon’s mission has been to help people find their strengths and their own passion for living a full and rewarding life. He is particularly sensitive to the pressures, frustrations and disappointments that adolescents face that can sometimes cause them and their loved ones to want to withdraw and throw their hands up in despair.
Dr. Day knows that you really have to understand where a student is coming from and understand their patterns of strengths and needs. When we truly know an individual and their struggles, only then can we truly help.
Dr. Day has pioneered the use of outdoor therapy activities and outdoor living as a dynamic and effective therapeutic tool for learning, confidence building and skill building. His programs provide effective, supportive and encouraging environments that help students find their strengths and power.