Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are diagnosed in early childhood. But for others, the signs may not be as clear. It might not be until they are at primary school or secondary school that the questions of ASD comes up. During these years, social and behavioural differences can become more obvious as children respond to the social and educational challenges of school and friendship.
Signs of ASD in older children and teenagers can include having very strong or unusual interests, or having difficulty taking turns in conversations or making and keeping friends. Teenagers with ASD might also have difficulty coping with schoolwork or feel anxious.
You might wonder whether getting and having an ASD diagnosis in later childhood or adolescence will make a difference to your child. The diagnosis itself won’t change your child, or the way that you think or feel about them but it might help you and your child understand why they are having difficulties.
A diagnosis describes your child’s abilities, difficulties and needs. And it can help guide treatment and intervention for your child and help your child get services and funding to support his development – for example, extra support at school.
Some signs of autism in school children and teenagers
- Issues with conversation, perhaps dominating conversations with their favourite topic and not knowing how to take turns.
- Not being able to interpret the non-verbal communication of peers and adults.
- Unusual speech patterns, a monotonous tone or an old fashioned way of talking.
- Seeking solitude, and finding being with others very stressful and exhausting.
- Being rigid in following rules at school and in sport and games.
- Finding it hard to read social cues and the unwritten rules of friendship
- Having unusual interests and obsessions, no breadth of interests
- Sometimes there are unusual physical movements, such as touching, biting, rocking or finger flicking.
- Having sensory issues, either heightened or lack of sense of smell, touch, taste, sound and vision
- Need to follow routines to feel secure, become very upset when expected routines change.
- Having few or no real friends.
- Aggression is sometimes seen, usually as a way of avoiding overwhelming situations.
- Anxiety is also common, especially as children enter the teenager years.
- Speaks in an abnormal tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch (e.g. ends every sentence as if asking a question)
- Repeats the same words or phrases over and over.
- Responds to a question by repeating it, rather than answering it
- Refers to themselves in the third person
- Uses language incorrectly (grammatical errors, wrong words)
- Has difficulty communicating needs or desires
- Doesn’t understand simple directions, statements, or questions
- Takes what is said too literally (misses’ undertones of humour, irony, and sarcasm)
- Avoids eye contact.
- Uses facial expressions that don't match what he or she is saying
- Doesn’t pick up on other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures
- Makes very few gestures (such as pointing). May come across as cold or “robot-like"
- Reacts unusually to sights, smells, textures, and sounds. May be especially sensitive to loud noises
- Abnormal posture, clumsiness, or eccentric ways of moving (e.g. walking exclusively on tiptoes)