Autism is most often diagnosed in early childhood, usually by age two, when a delay in the acquisition of language skills is typically first noticed. However, sometimes a high-functioning autistic child may not be diagnosed until adolescence. Generally characterized by difficulties with communication and social interaction, autism can be particularly hard for teenagers to deal with, because of the added stress of the hormonal changes accompanying puberty. Watch for these symptoms in autistic teenagers.
- Skill level:
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Talk to the teenager to assess his ability to communicate verbally and nonverbally. Note whether he has trouble starting or continuing a conversation, whether he is able to understand your point of view or whether he is able to speak at all. He may communicate with gestures rather than spoken language.
Observe the teenager's body posture and his ability to make or maintain eye contact during conversation. Autistic individuals often have trouble with these social skills.
Notice whether the teenager is interested in participating in group or family activities. An autistic person typically displays little interest in such activities and has trouble making friends.
Look for a preoccupation with a particular topic or an object. Autistic teens and adults often display an apparent expertise or a captivation by a very narrow subject area.
Be aware of a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Many teens with autism don't like physical contact or are startled easily by sudden loud noises. They may seem to tune out the world.
Determine if the teen has learning difficulties by finding out if he has any trouble in school.
Tips and warnings
- If your child's doctor disagrees with you about whether your child has autism, and you would like to investigate further, contact your local school system or health department and ask about your state's early intervention office.
- Although no medical test exists to diagnose autism in a child, the process of diagnosing an individual with this disorder is complex and should be done by a doctor. Parents and teachers can provide valuable input as to how the child behaves at home and school but cannot diagnose autism on their own. Contacting a health professional regarding your concerns about autism in your child is crucial.
- Autism can be confused with Asperger's Syndrome, another developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Other conditions, such as mental retardation and obsessive-compulsive disorder, may also resemble autism. A doctor will know the difference.
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