According to this study, about 90% of parents who have a child with autism noticed symptoms by the time their child reached 2 years of age. Autism spectrum disorder can cause developmental delays or other noticeable symptoms in infants and toddlers, but some children with autism may develop normally and show no observable signs of the disorder. However, because autism is on a spectrum, the severity of symptoms varies and affects every individual differently. A significant number of children with autism may not exhibit any common signs until they begin school.
One parent of a child with autism mentioned in an article that, “My child is developing behavioral problems. That’s because he can’t communicate well at school.” School can cause numerous difficulties for children on the autism spectrum due to the changes that occur in their environment and routines. The stress of school may increase the severity of symptoms, influencing how a child interacts with others, learns, or behaves.
Signs of Autism in Grade School Students
Signs of autism may become noticeable when a child begins school because they tend to have difficulty with different aspects of socializing with others. A child with autism may have difficulty taking turns in conversations, reading the reactions of others, or having conversations about what others want to talk about. Other possible effects of autism in children include:
Signs of Autism in Teenagers
It can sometimes be difficult to notice autism in children if they appear to be doing well in school and don’t seem to have any symptoms that are typical of those on the autism spectrum. However, the onset of puberty, high school, and increased expectations of their achievements may cause the signs of autism to become more apparent. Some common signs of autism in teens include:
Autism in Females
Many people diagnosed with autism may also develop a mental illness, but undiagnosed autism may lead someone to develop mental health issues as well. Psychiatrist Ian McClure has reported that females especially are developing mental health difficulties because they haven’t yet been diagnosed with autism. Girls are most commonly underdiagnosed because the diagnostic criteria for autism is more typical for boys’ behavior and symptoms, while girls may deal with their symptoms differently.
Teenage girls are usually better at studying other people’s behavior and copying them to mask their symptoms, and quieter girls are usually thought of simply being shy rather than unfocused or disinterested. If they show signs that are more typical of autism, such as severe anxiety when their routine is changed, they may be misdiagnosed with a mental illness instead.
One woman wasn’t diagnosed with autism until she was 28 years old, but she had been misdiagnosed with several mental illnesses including bipolar depression and borderline personality disorder. She said that learning she had autism changed her life, and it’s much easier to manage her symptoms now that she finally has an accurate diagnosis.
Advice for Parents
If you think your child may be on the autism spectrum or dealing with a mental illness, it’s important to talk to a child psychologist who does autism assessments and your child’s doctor. The earlier a diagnosis is reached, the sooner your child can learn how to manage their symptoms, succeed in school, and communicate with others.
If your child or teen is found to have autism, there are some ways you can help them adjust to school and other life changes. Try to go with your child to school about a week before classes begin. Show them where their classroom and bathroom is located, and walk around the school with them so they can be better prepared for the first day of school. Getting involved in your child’s school, such as joining the PTA, can help you get to know your child’s teacher and meet other parents who may also have children with autism.
Outside of school, therapy might be helpful if your child or teen is dealing with high levels of stress or anxiety, behavioral issues, or seems overwhelmed. A therapist can help them work through their emotions, find healthy coping mechanisms for stress, and provide an outlet for your child’s frustrations. Scheduling an appointment at Oakville Wellness Center can be simply done online, or you can call for more information.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen