We’re loving that the NY Times is giving autism some time in the spotlight, and we love that they are encouraging folks to see a doctor with concerns. However, we know from our clinical practice that families can get confused if the focus is only on a short list of stereotypical symptoms.
In our practice, we find that autism clues can vary by age. That’s why we created this series highlighting tips for recognizing autism in early childhood, school-aged kids, and teens.
In teenagers, we often are identifying on the Autism Spectrum after they have been labelled with ADHD, anxiety, or behavior disorders for years.
We often see the telltale signs of low personal insight, few realistic personal goals, and a lack of self-advocacy.
LOW PERSONAL INSIGHT
These teenagers often struggle to tell you who they are, what they stand for, and what their goals are. It is hard for them to talk about feelings, what they do for fun, to tell social stories, even though these teens may be very smart and highly verbal.
FEW REALISTIC PERSONAL GOALS
Many teens we have worked with over the years on the Spectrum have a very hard time articulating personal goals. The goal may seem implausible in that the teenager has no plan for getting there, such as failing all high school classes and planning to go off to engineering school upon graduation. Of course, the goal could be possible. It would just require many steps to get there, and sometimes teens with ASD do not understand this as well.
STRUGGLES WITH SELF-ADVOCACY
Some teenagers appear very quiet and very anxious. The teacher may not have heard them speak and may feel they are disengaged. Or, a teen may be opinionated and have a tendency to offend teachers or peers with strong opinions and little insight into other’s feelings, opinions and challenges.
STRUGGLE TO DEVELOP CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Most of the time, in teens who have not had help for ASD, there are few close friends and connections, perhaps many classmates and peers, but no one with whom they have been able to form a close and personal friendship. They may have many friends but no BFF and maybe not a lot of attendance at sleepovers and birthday parties.
Because many teenagers referred for the first time for an autism evaluation are likely more mild in their symptoms, or harder to diagnose, they may have other diagnoses that are relevant, like ADHD or anxiety, both which are highly co-occurring with autism. If your child has a diagnosis but it isn’t really capturing their needs and it doesn’t really fit, a re-evaluation can be so important to rule out autism and make sure treatment is on track.