Signs & Symptoms of Autism in Teens

Are you concerned that your teen may have autism? Here are the signs to look for.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Signs & Symptoms Of Autism In Teenagers

The major signs of autism in teens are problems with speaking, patterns in behavior, problems with socializing, hearing and sensory troubles, and numerous other symptoms. Shown below are each listed in detail.

Sign #1: Communication Difficulties

Many teenagers have problems with talking. They're still children and sometimes don't possess the capacity to carry out dialogues with people in the same way that adults do.

However, an autistic adolescent might show an excessive inability to speak with others. When attempted, conversations may come across as highly awkward and even uncomfortable when in the presence of someone unaware of their disorder.

autism in teens

Teenagers often congregate with people they know, whereas someone on the spectrum might have many problems making friends based on them not fully understanding how people communicate with them too.

In one example, a middle schooler with autism may jot down notes in a way that's too wordy, where they copy every utterance that a teacher says verbatim.

From this, the child often gets left behind due to wanting to perfect everything on paper.

This is a communication problem since note-taking works by copying imperative parts of a sentence. Another example involves an autistic boy having an issue doing what their babysitter asks since they use many idioms and metaphors in their speech.

Those with ASD may take things in a very literal sense, where something simple would probably need to be explained thoroughly for them to understand it fully. This can be just as hard for ASD teens as it is for younger children.

Communication with autism has caused many harboring the disorder to express feelings of loneliness, depression, and even suicide.

Therefore, it's advised for parents of teenagers to take the time in understanding them and getting them to understand their parents. Bullying is another possible result of poor communication abilities. Unfortunately, bullying is still a problem in schools, and adolescents with disabilities, whether diagnosed or diagnosed, oftentimes are victims.

Sign #2: Repetitive Behaviors And Routines

Repetitive Behaviors And Routines

While young people sometimes enjoy doing the same activities on repeat, repetition for autistic people is much more severe. There could be repetition in speech, often characterized by the teen saying the same statement over and over to a level that causes notable discomfort to anyone that's around.

Sometimes, the repetition could be from a word that's spoken to them, a request to someone else, or mumbling under their breath. When not in the form of speech, repetition could be noted in routines, like walking in a specific way around the home.

Common occurrences are placing food separately from one another, not only on one plate but several. In school, repetition is common as well, sometimes as a coping mechanism when in a social atmosphere they might find uncomfortable.

Self-harm, while not as common as it is in children, can also be seen in some autistic teenagers.

The severity of it is highly dependent on the person, with head banging being less common. Hair pulling and twirling, knocking on objects, kicking, and making indecipherable noises are noted as frequent behaviors done on repeat.

The purpose of repetition with autism is to reduce anxious feelings when in a setting they feel powerless. Atmospheres with large crowds, and unfamiliar people, and when forced to take part in something they might not like can induce negative routines.

Sign #3: Social Interaction Challenges

Social interactions play a prominent role in determining whether a child is diagnosed with autism. They're very prominent in most with ASD and might even be observed in the mildest of cases. As most young people are social, someone that isn't might be easily seen, particularly in a peer group as gregarious as high schoolers.

When there are people in the presence of someone with autism they're unfamiliar with, they may shy away from others, even when someone attempts to get their attention.

They may keep to themselves and venture off to locations just to keep away from crowds, such as school libraries.

Awkwardness when talking is easily seen. The most prominent sign is a lack of eye contact. In this example, an autistic high-schooler is grouped up with two additional classmates for a study project. The two classmates, unaware of the other's autism, find it odd that he never attempts to look at them, even when they're directly trying to engage.

He even stares in the opposite direction when another attempt comes up for dialogue. The other two boys, still not knowing their group partner has autism, take these gestures as a sign of rudeness and conclude that he doesn't like them. This example illustrates a simple but common problem that ASD individuals face.

While diagnosed autism would help in these situations, such as teachers informing other classmates of someone's disorder or placing them in special needs classes altogether, the undiagnosed cases can be worse, where teasing and bullying are more likely to take place.

Sign #4: Sensory Sensitivity

Sensory problems in teens are the same as they are in younger children. Of course, with therapy, they're more able to manage their feelings and cope with audible noises they don't like.

Sensory sensitivity can happen at any time with ASD people yet areas with loud voluminous noises, large gatherings, and cacophonous music could trigger negative reactions.

Sensory issues are a major autistic symptom, so a teen that's diagnosed will likely have some ability to place themselves in areas where they're less at risk of panic.

They may move to an area that's more silent, listen to their music, or be asked to be placed in a location where they'll never have to worry about being in unfamiliar gatherings they've never been in before. Sometimes, gatherings on their own can become a catalyst for producing negative responses from the noises they make, like loud clapping that suddenly comes out of nowhere.

To avoid unpleasant sensory reactions, those with ASD often prefer to stay in areas and situations that are predictable, where they know what will happen and the eventual outcome when the situation they're in is about to pass.

Other Symptoms

Because ASD children may show problems with eating, this could morph into greater issues as they grow into their teen years. It's due to them having a more refined understanding of why they may or may like certain foods.

When little to no therapy is given, they may become firmly grounded on some foods, how they're cooked, the texture, smell, and the way they're placed during eating.

If something deviates from this they could flat-out refuse to eat.

Teens with autism that have a picky taste for eating are at high risk of being underweight or developing eating disorders in worse-case scenarios.

Another symptom is tics, such as the aforementioned hair pulling. Tics are done as a distraction to keep thoughts away from what's going on at any given moment when their presence in a setting isn't wanted. Boredom may lead to tics but are more severe, even resorting to injury in the most serious cases.

In these instances, the severity of them may pass when there's therapy given, especially throughout one's childhood.

Importance Of Early Detection In Teens

Detecting autism is best done when a child is young. That way, therapy can begin before some of their most negative traits reach habit-forming levels. But aside from young children, diagnosis in teens is also important since it occurs at a time when they're just short of becoming adults.

Detection as a teenager can open autistic adolescents up to therapy which allows them to control their emotions, feelings, thoughts, and sensory perceptions around them better than they would if undiagnosed.

Although autism isn't curable, intense therapy sessions are probably the best way to set ASD individuals up for interaction with the world around them.

Diagnosing Autism In Teens

To make an autism diagnosis for teenagers, parents or guardians are usually involved. It begins with a series of interviews with psychiatrists.

More than one is needed to avoid doctors misdiagnosing patients since autism's symptoms sometimes overlap or are similar to disorders that are entirely different.

Some doctors conduct interviews one on one with patients to see how they interact, whether or not they make eye contact and their social abilities.

MRIs might be suggested, as there are indicators in the brain unique to autism, like enlargement. Going back to eating disorders, a common ASD symptom is intestinal problems. Physicians might run tests to check for abnormalities in the guts, and scan for any indication of them having difficulty eating.

Autism Treatment

Treating autism isn't done with one visit to a doctor's office. It could take months or even years to successfully treat autism in some children and teenagers. The average time that autistic adolescents spend in therapy is two years.

Therapy might be longer for people that start it early. Due to many localities cutting off treatment to autistic people in their late teens, therapy may lessen as they reach adulthood.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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