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.
- Teens often compensate for social difficulties by imitating 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.
Diagnostic Criteria for Teens on the Autism Spectrum
- 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
What Resources Are Available for Teens on the Spectrum?
While many psychologists agree that early intervention can reduce many of the social difficulties people on the spectrum face, it is never too late for teens to look for resources. Teens who go through therapy see results that allow them to ease problematic behaviors, improve social interactions and better their own quality of life.
While there are a variety of support groups available in the community for teens on the spectrum, residential treatment centers integrate a variety of therapeutic modalities for teens who need additional support.
Available resources may include:
- Individual therapy focused on emotional intelligence
- Recreation programming
- Social skills groups focused on effective communication strategies
- Family therapy
- Specialized classrooms and tutoring
- Practical life skills training
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!