8 Signs of Autism in Older Children
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects individuals throughout their lives, but its signs and symptoms may evolve as children grow older. While autism is often diagnosed in early childhood, it’s essential to recognize that it can manifest differently in older children.
Highlighting the distinct signs and behaviors that may surface during this developmental stage increases awareness or the evolving nature of autism spectrum disorder in older children. By gaining a deeper understanding of these signs, parents, caregivers, and educators can better assist autistic older children in navigating the unique challenges they may encounter.
Older children with autism may continue to struggle with social interactions. They might find it challenging to initiate or maintain conversations, interpret non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions, and make and sustain friendships. They may prefer solitary activities or have difficulty understanding the nuances of group dynamics.
While some autistic children develop impressive language skills, others may struggle with communication. Older children with autism might have difficulty with conversational turn-taking, using language for social purposes, or understanding idiomatic expressions and sarcasm. Some may use repetitive language patterns or echolalia.
Sensory sensitivities can persist into adolescence for children with autism. They may still be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli such as loud noises, bright lights, or certain textures. Older children might employ coping strategies like wearing noise-canceling headphones or sunglasses to manage sensory input.
A hallmark of autism is the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. In older children, these interests and behaviors might become more specialized and sophisticated. They may immerse themselves in niche topics, engage in elaborate rituals, or collect specific items with intense focus.
Many autistic children struggle with change and transitions in routine. This difficulty can persist into adolescence, leading to anxiety and frustration when faced with unexpected alterations in their daily schedules or environments. Parents and caregivers can help by providing clear schedules and warnings about upcoming changes.
Older children with autism may continue to grapple with emotional regulation. They might have difficulty expressing their feelings appropriately, understanding the emotions of others, or managing intense emotional reactions. It’s crucial to teach them strategies for emotional self-regulation.
Executive function skills, which include planning, organizing, and problem-solving, can be impaired in older children with autism. They may struggle with tasks that require these skills, such as managing their time, completing homework, or making decisions independently.
Theory of mind refers to the ability to understand that other people have their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Older children with autism may still have a limited theory of mind, which can affect their ability to empathize and understand the motivations of others. Social skills training and explicit teaching of perspective-taking can be beneficial.
As autistic children transition into adolescence, they may encounter specific challenges that are commonly observed. These challenges include:
- Academic Struggles: Academic challenges can become more pronounced in older children with autism, particularly in subjects that require strong executive function skills. Individualized education plans (IEPs) and academic support can be beneficial.
- Anxiety and Depression: Autism often co-occurs with anxiety and depression, which can intensify during adolescence. Identifying and addressing these mental health concerns is crucial for the well-being of older children with autism.
- Transition Planning: Preparing for life beyond school is a critical consideration for older children with autism. Transition planning should begin early, addressing future education, employment, independent living, and social integration.
Diagnosing autism in older children can be more complex than in younger children. The autism diagnostic process typically involves the following steps:
- Clinical Evaluation: A healthcare provider, often a developmental pediatrician or child psychologist, conducts a thorough clinical autism evaluation. This includes gathering information from parents, teachers, and caregivers about the child’s developmental history, behavior, and social interactions.
- Observation: The healthcare provider may directly observe the child’s behavior and interactions to assess their social and communication skills, as well as their sensory sensitivities and repetitive behaviors.
- Standardized Assessment Tools: Standardized assessment tools, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), may be used to aid in the diagnosis.
- Medical Evaluation: A medical evaluation may be performed to rule out other medical conditions that could be contributing to the child’s symptoms.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy plays a crucial role in supporting teenagers and older children with autism. For adolescents and older individuals on the autism spectrum, ABA therapy offers tailored interventions that address their specific needs and challenges. It helps by breaking down complex skills into smaller, manageable steps and then systematically teaching and reinforcing them.
ABA also aids in reducing problem behaviors by identifying their underlying causes and replacing them with more appropriate alternatives. Through consistent and structured sessions, ABA therapy empowers older children and teens with autism to enhance their independence, engage more effectively with others, and navigate the demands of daily life.
At Empower Behavioral Health, our dedicated team of professionals is committed to providing tailored support for individuals with autism, including teens and older children. We understand the unique challenges that come with age, and our evidence-based approach is designed to empower individuals to reach their full potential. Contact us today and take the first step towards a brighter and more independent future for your child.