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Signs and Symptoms of Autism in Teens

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Withdrawing from friends and family, being short-tempered, easily distressed, confused, or overly anxious might seem like ‘typical’ teenage behaviors. 

This is why parents and educators often overlook the autism signs in teens.

That’s not to say that if your teen suddenly gets anxious or withdraws from school, they’re autistic. 

Instead, it’s essential to realize that autism symptoms in teens can vary greatly. 

If they’re exhibiting signs of anxiety, talk with your teen and their doctor to determine if they have any other symptoms. 

Together, you can determine if an autism evaluation is warranted.

With extensive experience in autism diagnosis and treatment, at Heartlinks, we’ve worked with many parents of teens who are not only stunned by their child’s autism diagnosis but are questioning how they ever missed the signs and symptoms.

Identifying autism signs in teens can be extremely difficult; Heartlinks is here to help

Let us help your family and your teen determine the cause of their symptoms and provide them with the skills to lead happy and fulfilling lives.  

What are the Symptoms of Autism in Teenagers?

The following is a sample of the variety of symptoms teens with autism present. 

Sensory issues and difficulties

One of the primary autism signs in teens is difficulty processing sensory stimulation, so much so that they often get overloaded. Whether it’s crowds, loud sounds, bright lights, or strong smells, autistic teens can only handle a small amount of this input. If they become overwhelmed by this stimulus, they may resort to self-soothing to handle the sensory overload.

Girl sad with her Mom

Emotional difficulties

If your teen is having difficulty verbally expressing themselves, seems withdrawn, depressed, or is suffering from low self-esteem, it’s worth investigating the cause. Talk to your teen and consult a medical professional. With so many factors affecting young people in their teens, these symptoms might be temporary or signs of something much bigger.

Difficulty with social situations

Whether your teen is autistic or not, navigating social situations is always tricky. Yet, if your adolescent has difficulty maintaining friendships, this might indicate they’re dealing with more than your typical teen drama. 

Other social symptoms of autistic teens include slow or inconsistent eye contact. It’s about more than being shy or rude; teens with autism have legitimate difficulty looking at someone eye-to-eye.  

Why Teens Are Often Diagnosed Late with Autism

Teens often get overlooked for an Autism diagnosis. This can occur for several reasons. 

Initial Misdiagnoses

Teens that present symptoms of aggression may be diagnosed with ADHD first. This diagnosis becomes the therapist and parent’s primary focus without digging deeper. Aggressive behavior may very well be a sign of autism. 

Unfortunately, it’s in circumstances where treatment fails, or a series of other symptoms arise (often during the teenage years) that a healthcare provider might consider autism a possible cause.

A 2019 study in the journal Autism indicated that 10.3% of autistic adults were incorrectly diagnosed with ADHD as children. Subsequently, 12.1% of children who received an initial diagnosis of ADHD were later diagnosed with autism.

Teen girl with Autism

Masked Symptoms

Teens with exceptional intelligence can often mask their symptoms of ASD. Most often, parents and caregivers don’t even associate autism with an extremely high level of intelligence.   

Even doctors can overlook the signs of autism if the teen can communicate effectively and reach the required developmental milestones. 


Studies show girls are four times less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys. The leading explanation for this is gender bias.  

For example, if a boy is shy and introverted, this is seen to be problematic. This is more culturally acceptable if a girl exhibits these symptoms.

Evidence suggests that specific symptoms of autism may be considered more socially problematic with boys than girls.

For example, if a boy has demonstrated difficulties with coordination in sports, this would be cause for concern, much more so than if a girl showed the same ones. 

Next Steps at Heartlinks

It is a personal decision to seek an autism assessment for your teenager. 

If you suspect your teen might have some of the symptoms of ASD, contact your medical provider.  They can help with an evaluation and diagnosis. 

From there, we at Heartlinks can help with the therapy portion.  We offer both in-home and community-based therapy. We can customize our therapy to suit your teen’s strengths and deficits.  

It’s important to remember that the sooner your teen receives a diagnosis and begins treatment, the sooner they’ll feel a greater sense of self-identity, increased confidence, and a better understanding of their strengths and skills.
For more information on how Heartlinks can help your teen with autism, contact us today!

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