Autism in Teenagers 

autism in teenagers

Autism in Teenagers and Older Children.

All teenagers are going through changes. The ability to adapt and change is often one of the most difficult things for autism in children. Hence starting and working through secondary school can be difficult when children present with autism in teenage years. Symptoms of Autism in teenagers may continue yet present differently than autism in preschool and autism in primary school. The core difficulties of social communication and atypical behaviours remain in the teenage years.

For some teenagers with autism there can be notable improvements as general maturity occurs. Some may establish new or more consistent ways of communicating with others.

autism in the preschool years
autism in teenagers

By considering the enormity of the changes expected in secondary school, parents can pre-empt potential gaps or needs their teenager with autism may face in the teenage years. These changes can include:

Changes in hormone levels and impact on mood and sleep.

These are often already areas of difficulties for children with autism

​Changes in hygiene needs can impact on sensory issues

– feeling of hair on faces, legs etc., need to shave, increase smell of body odours, need to use deodorants or to shower more.

​Scheduling, structure and support in secondary schools can be notably less than in primary schools.

There may be many changes in teachers, subjects and classrooms in one day.

Teenagers with autism may have previously coped at school when rituals and routines had been constant. Continual changes in high timetables can cause notable distress in secondary school. In classroom help often gets more scarce in secondary school. Strong advocacy from parents or allied health may be required to keep supports in place.

​Learning strategies are left to students and assignment timetabling is placed more on the shoulders of secondary school students to initiate, plan and complete on time.

Autism in teenagers can make this need for independent thinking and executive functioning difficult in secondary school (planning ahead of time, remembering what homework tasks need to be completed, working to deadlines)

​Changes in friendship circles can occur between primary and secondary schools.

Many children change interests during adolescence resulting in new relationships being forged. Autism in teenagers make it difficult for them to start new friendships all over again or maintain the old ones. They will often prefer to be on their own than interact with peers. It can be hard for teenagers with autism to have age-appropriate interests they can share with same age peers.

​Humour and inferencing can become more sophisticated in the teenage years.

Humour is often less literal and can be based on play on words. Autism in the teenagers can result in many adolescents missing the joke or interpreting what is being said in a group in completely the wrong way. Autistic teenagers can have trouble reading non-verbal cues, like body language or tone of voice. They can find it hard to guess how someone else might be feeling – for example, they might not understand when an adult is angry based on tone of voice. They might not be able to tell when someone is teasing them or using sarcasm.

autistic teenagers

The cumulative effect of all these changes can lead to other medical or social concerns with the added factor of autism in teenagers. These can include:


Teenagers with autism may become more aware of their differences as well as how others see them. The feeling of being left out can be intensified by changes in hormones.

​Anorexia and eating disorders

May co-occur with ASD in the teenage years (Westwood, et al 2017). These disorders may evolve as sensory difficulties impact further on their food choices. These medical concerns can also be the consequence of feelings of anxiety due to the changes they have to face in secondary school years.

​Aggressive and anti-social behaviours

May emerge due to mis-understandings in social situations or frustrations with changes in schedules or interactions with others. The possibility of being expelled from school can loom if aggressive behaviours along with bigger and stronger teenage bodies intercept.

​School refusal

May result due to the symptoms of autism in the teenage years becoming too much for them to cope with. Without sufficient supports they may find it hard to put into place their needs to meet their particular learning requirements.

autism funding

Academic achievement for teenagers with autism

As noted in the page “what is Autism”, every child with autism will present differently. This is no different for autism in teenagers. Academic achievement in teenagers with autism will range enormously from low-functioning individuals to high functioning students.

A lot of the research “group” teenagers with autism making it hard to speculate how one individual might manage at secondary school.

One study by Jones et al (20o9) found that 73% of their sample of 100 adolescents with ASD found one area of learning that did not match what might have been expected for their overall IQ levels. One group presented with superior arithmetic skills compared to their overall IQ scores and these adolescents tended to be attending mainstream schools. The most common discrepancy however was poor reading comprehension in relation to their IQ. Severity of social and communication difficulties was frequently associated with the reduced reading ability.

​The study concluded that due to the tendency of teenagers with autism to have an uneven academic profile

(e.g., very strong just in maths or poor in reading comprehension), supports in educational settings need to be put in place to maximise learning for these adolescents with autism.

​Jones CR1, Happé F, Golden H, Marsden AJ, Tregay J, Simonoff E, Pickles A, Baird G, Charman T.(2009) Reading and arithmetic in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: peaks and dips in attainment. Neuropsychology. 2009 Nov;23(6):718-28Westwood, H., Mandy, W. & Tchanturia, K. (2017). Clinical evaluation of autistic symptoms in women with anorexia nervosa. Mol Autism. 2017 Mar 16;8:12.

Autism teensagers

Is SpeechNet Experienced in Autism?

SpeechNet Speech Pathologists are experienced in:
  • Early and late diagnosis of ASD.
  • Individual, group, CCC/school treatment and consultative services service for children with ASD form infancy through to 18 years of life.
  • We aim to assist families along-side medical specialists to tease out if presenting difficulties are more likely to be aligned with autism or another diagnosis (late talker, language delay, intellectual impairment, dyspraxia, hearing impairment etc).
  • We are able to provide an individual treatment plan for your child to assist them to meet their learning needs, Our goal is toassist them to participate in their particular community.
  • As we work closely with OT, Psychology, Dietitians and physiotherapists that have all had notable experience with children with autism, our speech pathology services are offered within a holistic family friendly framework.

​For more information about our services take a look at the information links on this page for each specific age. Alternative contact us today for a no obligation chat about how we can help.

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Sandra McMahon