This week, the greatest number of page views for this site as a result of an internet search was for my recent post centered around Tigger. He’s one popular cat, apparently. But the second most common search that yielded this website was “signs of teen autism.” I figured that subject warranted a post of its own.
I thought about it and realized that there would be primarily two groups of people who could be typing in that search:
a) either a parent, relative, or teacher trying to figure out a possible explanation for the different characteristics of their teen
b) anyone wanting to know how to recognize autism in the teen years, perhaps because they think they’ve come in contact with an ASD teen in their community
First of all, in the teen years, the signs of Asperger’s and high functioning autism are so similar that many people think that there is no difference between the two. Both have much difficulty with social skills (e.g. random, little, or no eye contact while conversing; random, little or no voice inflection; compromised ability to read facial cues and body language), often exhibit reactions to sensory issues (e.g. being easily startled by noises, covering ears; running away from bees and other flying insects), have a great need for routines and rituals, and exhibit obsessions with particular “specialty interests.” How, then, does one tell the difference between Asperger’s and high functioning autism in teens? The difference lies primarily in the child’s early development of language, although there are other differences as well. In cases of classic – or Kanner’s – autism, language development was very late, labored (took many years), or did not occur at all. My son Nigel falls into this category because his language acquisition was quite late and labored. Asperger’s, by comparison, was nicknamed “little professor syndrome” because the young children observed by Hans Asperger were quite verbal, but they often fixated on certain topics and exhibited some differences in social interaction. Because they can talk, many children with Asperger’s are not diagnosed until later, so the searchers listed above in group a) are most likely trying to identify a teen with Asperger’s.
For the group b) people, THANK YOU for wanting to find out. Thank you for caring enough to take the time to do so. We parents of ASD teens truly appreciate you. You’ll find some characteristic signs of teen autism listed in bold green in this post (which you probably already figured out, because you’re a smart person for seeking out the information in the first place). You’ll also find some tips for interacting with an ASD teen in my post Getting to Know an Autistic Teen. If you’re looking for signs of autism in teens who are more profoundly autistic, in most cases they will not be mainstreamed in regular school classes, and when they are in the community they will be with a parent or someone else accompanying them. They exhibit little to no speech or echolalic speech. They may also exhibit more reactions to sensory stimuli especially in noisy, crowded places and may make repetitive body movements (spinning, flapping, rocking). Autism manifests itself differently in every person affected by it, so these traits, in addition to those listed in the previous paragraph, may or may not occur and in varying degrees. One thing’s for sure – you’ll find that people with autism at all functioning levels are wonderful, fascinating individuals worthy of your time, interest, and respect.