Autism and Adolescence:
The Adolescent Years

Autism and adolescence can be a time of stress and confusion; as it is for typically developing teens. Like all children, they need help in dealing with their budding sexuality. While some behaviors improve during the teenage years, some get worse. Increased autistic or aggressive behavior may be one way some teens express their newfound tension and confusion.

The teenage years are also a time when children become more socially sensitive. At the age that most teenagers are concerned with acne, popularity, grades, and dates, teens with autism may become painfully aware that they are different from their peers. They may notice that they lack friends. And unlike their schoolmates, they aren't dating or planning for a career.

For some, the sadness that comes with such realization motivates adolescents with autism to learn new behaviors and acquire better social skills. Health risks include seizures and depression.

Adolescence and Autism
and Seizures

According to Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. of the Center for the Study of Autism, approximately one in four children with autism begin to have seizures during puberty. The seizure activity may be due to hormonal changes in the body.

Often times seizures are noticeable and associated with convulsions. Most seizures are small, sub clinical seizures, that are not detected by simple observation. Some possible signs of sub-clinical seizure activity include:

  • exhibiting behavior problems, such as aggression, self-injury, and severe tantrumming;
  • making little or no academic gains after doing well during childhood and pre-teen years;
  • and/or losing some behavioral and/or cognitive gains.

Parents may wish to consider having an EEG performed on their child for 24 to 48 hours to increase the likelihood of detecting any abnormal activity. An EEG performed for a shorter testing period may not detect any seizures.

As stated by Dr. Edelson, vitamin B6 with magnesium as well as dimethylglycine (DMG) is known to reduce or eliminate seizure activity in some individuals.

Please note: The majority of adolescents with autism do not have seizures during puberty. Many parents describe their son or daughter as having experienced developmental gains during the adolescence years.

Dr. Edelson encourages parents of adolescents with autism to be aware of the possible positive and negative changes that can occur with puberty. Importantly, parents should know that about 25% of persons with autism may experience clinical or sub clinical seizures which, if left untreated, can lead to harmful effects.

Source: Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D., Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon (Autism and Adolescence)

Studies: Autism and Adolescence

Adolescence And Autism: A Difficult, But Not Hopeless Combination

The challenges autistic patients face become more pronounced during adolescence, when many kinds of social behaviours are developed these individuals can become more aware of their relationship difficulties.

"This study shows that the social and interpersonal skills of autistic adolescents can be improved, and we established that our method is efficient and does not require significant resources," said Dr. Fombonne, Head of Child Psychiatry at McGill University Health Centre.

They wanted to address the needs of autistic adolescents who had no major delay in their language development or who were not cognitively challenged (high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome). The major component of the sessions is role play, which allows the patients to simulate different social situations and create new friendships with other members of the group.

The study results definitely back up this conclusion, as there was increase in patients' social skills over the course of the sessions, an improvement that was maintained outside the training groups. This last point proves that behaviour improvement in these patients is not solely tied to the hospital environment. The training has also helped some of the adolescents reduce problems with excessive irritability or sensitivity.

McGill University Health Centre (2007, November 3). Adolescence And Autism: A Difficult, But Not Hopeless Combination.

Autism and Adolescence Resources

VESID or the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities provides vocational services for eligible participants.

Transition Planning is required by federal and state regulations before age 14 to begin to help you and your child develop a transition plan to prepare a student to achieve adult life goals.

Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum

Autism - Asperger's and Sexuality: Puberty and Beyond

Sex, Sexuality And The Autism Spectrum

Click here for more information related to autism and adolescence and adults.

A Child with Autism

Autism Action Plan

Return to Home page