High Number of Undiagnosed Teens on the Spectrum

Most parents identify possible signs of autism in their child in the first few years of their lives, often as they notice developmental delays in motor skills, language, and social skills before elementary school. A recent study found that at least 25% of teens on the spectrum are undiagnosed, even though they show traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder. 

Why Are Some Children Not Diagnosed Early?

Researchers analyzed the education and medical records of 266,000 children, seeking to determine how many of those who showed symptoms of the disorder were not clinically diagnosed or receiving services. Of the nearly 4,500 children identified, 25 percent were not diagnosed.

“There may be various reasons for the diagnostic gap, from anxiety about the complicated diagnostic process to fear of stigma,” explains co-author Walter Zahorodny. “Also, many parents whose children are diagnosed later often attribute their first concerns to a behavioral or medical issue rather than a developmental problem.” 

One of the most common stereotypes about Autism Spectrum Disorder is that it is a type of learning disorder. For most teens on the spectrum, they have average to above-average intelligence scores. With this misperception, parents may be hesitant to seek out psychological testing if they do not have any immediate academic concerns. While Autism may not be a learning disorder, related executive functioning issues and trouble understanding social rules may affect reading comprehension, concentration, and class participation.

Is a Late Diagnosis Still Accurate?

It is not uncommon for teens to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder later in adolescence, especially as this is when other co-occuring mental health issues may become more prevalent. For some, they may not receive an accurate diagnosis until they experience difficulties adjusting to the stressors of upper-level academics and social pressures and seek out psychological services independently. While signs may not be apparent until social rules become more complex in adolescence, one of the diagnostic criteria of Autism Spectrum Disorder is that traits have been visible since childhood and persistent over time. 

Just as it is unlikely for children who are diagnosed early to “grow out” of symptoms as an adult once they’ve learned to manage processing differences, it is unlikely for signs that your teen is on the Autism Spectrum to appear spontaneously. Although early signs may be more subtle, often teens agree that being diagnosed helped them explain early feelings of “being different” or “being sensitive” and not quite understanding why.

The Power of Diagnosis

Our approach is informed by understanding the intricacies of neurodevelopmental disorders. Like the researchers in the study explained above, our clinical team focuses more on the symptoms that each student we work with experiences rather than just looking at the diagnosis. As Autism is a spectrum disorder whose symptoms overlap with other neurodevelopmental disorders and executive functioning issues, it’s important to come up with treatment plans on a case by case basis instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach. 

We offer comprehensive psychological testing to help teens better understand the challenges they face across different settings. We believe that empowering teens on the spectrum to self-advocate requires open communication about their treatment plans and ongoing psychoeducation about therapeutic approaches that may be helpful for them.

New Focus Academy Can Help

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism spectrum disorder or other neurodevelopmental disorders. While many teens with autism have tried to mask the symptoms they experience, identifying situations they struggle with helps us create personalized treatment plans to help them meet their personal goals. The program utilizes positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. The social skills that teens on the autism spectrum learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interactions, organization, and improve their self-management skills. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits.

For more information, call us at (844) 313-6749. We can help your family today!