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Spotting Autism in Teens: What to Look For and How to Help Autistic Teens


Teenager leaning on post

Navigating the teen years can be a wild ride for everyone, but for autistic teens, the challenges can be even more intense. Sometimes, signs of autism become more noticeable when kids hit middle or high school because these new environments can be overwhelming. Here’s a guide to help you spot the signs and take action.


Signs of Autism in Teens

If you notice some of these signs in yourself or someone you know, it might be time to talk to a healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what’s going on and get the right support.


Social Communication


Verbal Communication:


  • Conversation Challenges: Finding it hard to take turns in a conversation, either wanting to do all the talking or struggling to answer questions about themselves.

  • Focused Interests: Talking a lot about favorite topics but finding it tough to discuss a range of subjects.

  • Literal Understanding: Take phrases like "It's Raining Cats & Dogs!" literally and get confused.

  • Voice Differences: Speaking loudly, with an unusual accent, or without varying tone or volume.

  • Advanced Vocabulary: Using big words and formal language.

  • Difficulty with Instructions: Struggling to follow multi-step directions.


Nonverbal Communication:


  • Reading Cues: Difficulty understanding body language or tone of voice.

  • Eye Contact: Making less eye contact or not using it much in conversations.

  • Facial Expressions: Showing fewer emotions on their faces or having trouble reading others’ facial expressions.

  • Gestures: Using fewer gestures to express themselves.


Developing Relationships


  • Solo Time: Preferring to spend time alone rather than with peers.

  • Rule-Oriented: Wanting others to follow their rules and getting upset if they don’t.

  • Social Rules: Struggling to understand the unwritten rules of friendship.

  • Making Friends: Finding it hard to make friends or having very few friends.

  • Relating to Others: Preferring to hang out with younger kids or adults.

  • Social Situations: Finding it tough to adjust behavior in different social settings.

  • Personal Space: Being more comfortable with close personal space than others.


Behavioral Signs


Repetitive Behaviors and Interests:


  • Special Interests: Having intense interests, like memorizing sports stats without caring much about the game.

  • Compulsive Actions: Needing to line things up or close all the doors in the house.

  • Attachment to Objects: Carrying certain toys around or collecting unusual items.

  • Routine Oriented: Getting upset by changes in routine and needing to know about changes in advance.

  • Repetitive Movements: Flapping hands or rocking back and forth.

  • Repetitive Noises: Making noises like grunts, throat-clearing, or squeals.


Sensory Sensitivities:


  • Sensitive to Environment: Being easily upset by loud noises, disliking tags on clothes, or being picky about food textures.

  • Seeking Sensory Stimulation: Enjoying deep pressure, vibrating objects, or watching flickering lights.

  • Pain Response: Not reacting to pain in the same way as others.


Common Challenges for Autistic Teens


Autistic teens might also face other issues, including:


  • Sleep Problems: Difficulty falling asleep or having broken sleep patterns.

  • Anxiety and Meltdowns: Feeling anxious about new places or social situations.

  • Depression: Feeling different from others and potentially facing bullying, leading to low mood and intensified by puberty.

  • Aggressive Behavior: Sensory sensitivities and difficulty understanding surroundings can lead to frustration and sudden aggressive behavior.

  • Eating Disorders: Using food control as a way to manage anxiety, especially during transitions like moving to a new school.

  • Executive Functioning: Struggling with planning, organizing, prioritizing tasks, and managing time efficiently.

  • School Refusal: Feeling overwhelmed or confused at school can lead to avoiding it altogether.


What to Do Next


If these signs resonate with you, it’s important to reach out to a doctor. A diagnoses can open doors to support and services that can make a big difference. Understanding that you’re autistic can also help you connect with others who share your experiences and build a community that understands you.


Remember, being autistic is just one part of who you are. Embrace it, and use it to find strength and support during these challenging years. To learn more about the services that Hope 4 Autism provides, contact us at Luann@hope4autism.org or call 573.664.1711.

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