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Advice for parents on managing behaviour in autism for adolescents

If you think that your teenager may be autistic, or you have an autistic child and want to know what to expect when they become a young adult, we have outlined the symptoms that can appear as an autistic child becomes an adolescent.

You will also find the steps to take if you believe that your teenager is autistic, and the strategies that can help you to manage particular behaviours.

I think my teenager may be autistic

Why do some young people get a late diagnosis?

It is common for a young person to get a late diagnosis if they are ‘high functioning’ or academically able. This also occurs more in girls than in boys, as girls are generally more adept at copying neuro-typical behaviours, including verbal and non-verbal communication in order to mask their autism.

Late diagnosis can happen because there is some ambiguity which makes it difficult to be sure a young person has autism, or because other conditions have presented as being their primary need e.g. challenging behaviour or ADHD. Typically, children are also often able to cope in a primary school environment but find the increasing demand of secondary school very stressful, leading to their difficulties becoming more apparent. 

Signs of autism in teenagers

There are signs that parents, teachers and carers can look out for if they think that a child may have autism:

  • Difficulty with social interaction and communication
    • Problems forming friendships
    • Mistaking social cues or body language
    • Misinterpretation of conversations
    • Finding it easier to form friendships online
    • Poor eye contact
    • Expressing that they ‘don’t fit in’
  • Inflexibility or rigidity of thought (‘black and white’ thinking)
  • Sensory processing difficulties
    • Experiencing sensory overload e.g. finding the noise of school overwhelming
    • Being unable to cope with queues or crowds
    • Sensitive to touch
    • Having difficulties with the planning and organisation of their work, bag or school day
  • Emotional difficulties
    • Low self-esteem
    • Difficulty or reluctance to express or label their own emotions
    • Levels of anxiety which seem excessive compared to the situation triggering them
    • Low mood or depression
    • A desire to withdraw from the outside world

Steps to take if you believe a teenager has autism

If you think your teenager has autism, is it important for you to carry out research. Sites such as Child Autism UK can help you better understand the condition and the steps to take next.

You should also contact their special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) to discuss the symptoms. It is also important to speak to your GP who can provide medical advice and referrals where necessary.

What to expect when an autistic child is becoming a teen

New symptoms that may appear during adolescence

Autistic children can often find adolescence very difficult. Although they have the same hormones as all other teenagers, they don’t naturally develop complex relationships and aren’t able to interpret or engage in the more types of relationships which develop as children get older. They can be prone to isolation and low moods, which can appear very intense and be difficult to read.

How to help any autistic behaviour that occurs as a child becomes a teenager:

  • Take a calm, quiet approach when talking to the young person
  • Give them their own space, while ensuring that they don’t retreat from family life altogether
  • Limit online activities to encourage face-to-face time with people
  • Plan activities for weekends and holidays in advance and share those plans with the young person
  • Keep to a routine
  • When talking to your son or daughter, do so while engaging in a chosen activity, such as walking through the park or driving in the car with them as a front-seat passenger, rather than sitting looking at them
  • Use lots of subtle and genuine praise, as children with autism generally have low self-esteem and need more genuine praise then neuro-typical children. But remember that many autistic children dislike being singled-out in front of others and praised

Support available for autistic children when becoming teenagers

Some local authorities have charities operating within them, so search the website of your local author to see what support is available. Some offer ‘buddying’ volunteers for young people with autism who would otherwise have no peer friendships, while others provide support groups for parents and advice on how to navigate the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) process.

For more details on Aspris Children's Services, please call 0118 970 8068 or click here to make an enquiry.