Teens with autism often feel isolated from their peers.

Autistic Behaviors in Teens

by Amber Keefer

The wide range of symptoms that characterize an autism spectrum disorder can affect a teen’s level of functioning in several different areas. But exactly in what ways autism has an effect on a teen’s life varies from individual to individual. Generally, autism affects a teen’s behavior and ability to communicate and interact with others on a social level, points out Massachusetts General Hospital. Fortunately, interventions at home and at school can help decrease a teen’s autistic behaviors.

Common Symptoms

Although teens with autism spectrum disorder may not have all the same symptoms, there are common characteristics that many share. Autistic teens generally are inflexible in their need for structure and routine. Along with problems understanding other people’s facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, they often have trouble seeing things from other people’s viewpoints. While some teens with autism engage in repetitive behaviors, others are highly preoccupied with a limited number of interests. Generally, autistic teens face more serious social and emotional challenges than their peers which can eventually lead to mood disorders and aggressive behavior.

Lack of Social Skills

Teens with autism don’t always know how to act appropriately in social situations which makes it difficult for them to develop peer relationships. This often creates more anxiety, particularly when a teen finds himself in an unfamiliar social environment or situation. Making friends can be especially hard for someone who lacks understanding of basic social rules. While some autistic teens prefer to be alone much of the time, others feel isolated as a result of their underdeveloped social and communication skills. In an article published on HealthCentral, Dr. Paul T. Shattuck, a researcher for a study completed at Washington University, points out that about one-third of adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder do not interact socially with their peers. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have social contact with other teens.

Problems Communicating

Many teens with autism spectrum disorder often have difficulty expressing or controlling their emotions. In addition, they don't always understand how other people are feeling. Despite some autistic teens having superior verbal skills, they can misunderstand the social meanings of words. But being confused by what others mean when they talk can bring about inappropriate emotional and verbal responses. Consequently, difficulty with verbal communication skills can lead to social isolation and depression. When working to improve communication skills, learning how to initiate a conversation and keep it going are important factors in developing better social skills.

Treatment and Support

The level of treatment and support services a teen with autism requires depends on the symptoms and severity of the disorder. Counseling, behavioral programs, social skills training and, in some cases, medications can help prevent problem behaviors and improve an autistic teen’s quality of life. When it comes to education, minimizing distractions in the classroom and providing hands-on learning experiences to help them understand abstract concepts can be highly beneficial, notes CRC Health Group, a national behavioral health care network. An autistic teen’s academic success often improves with small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios that allow the teen to receive personalized attention. Offering extracurricular and recreational activities that build on a teen’s particular interests helps meet his individual needs as well.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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