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Asperger’s, Autism In Teens

Though for many years, Asperger’s syndrome had its own classification, according to the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health), Asperger’s syndrome now falls under the wider umbrella of the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) category.

Teenagers with Asperger’s are known by medical professionals as young people with a “high-functioning” type of ASD. Certain factors such as: brain structure abnormalities, problems at birth, specific types of infections, and genetics have all been said to contribute to the possible development of ASD. However, the precise cause for the development of autism spectrum disorder remains unknown.

Symptoms

Depending on the individual, some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can be noticed in children as early as a few months old. More commonly, ASD surfaces in children between the ages of one to three years old, as they begin to fall behind socially. Below are some examples of symptoms that are frequently present in young people with ASD:

  • Difficulty carrying conversations with peers
  • Verbal communication deficits
  • Strict need for routine and structure
  • Preoccupations with a specific topic
  • Challenges with regulating emotions
  • Experiences sensory overload frequently
  • Unable to empathize
  • Difficulty interpreting social cues
  • Unable to maintain friendships

It is important to note that every adolescent is different and the same is true for those struggling with ASD. Teenagers with autism spectrum disorder have the propensity to exhibit any combination of the above examples, with varying levels of severity.

 Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder can only be properly diagnosed in a young person through the evaluation of a trained medical and/or mental health professional. Medical doctors such as pediatric neurologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and mental health professionals such as psychologists are all trained to accurately diagnose ASD in adolescents. Part of the evaluation will include asking certain questions about the young person’s behaviors. Examples of common questions asked to parents as a component of an evaluation include:

  • What age did your child begin speaking?
  • Describe any symptoms your teenager exhibits and when they were first noticed.
  • Does your teen have friends?
  • Can your teenager communicate easily with peers?
  • Are there any subjects or specific activities that preoccupy and dominate your child’s time?

A diagnosis will be determined only after the professional has sufficiently conducted an evaluation and in many cases has had the opportunity to observe the teen’s communication abilities and behaviors in different situations.

Treatments

Each teenager is different and will respond to varied treatment approaches that best cater to the teen’s personal needs. CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy can help a young person learn how to better control their repetitive behaviors and emotions. This can assist in minimizing meltdowns and outbursts. Speech-language therapy as well as social skills training can be helpful for young people with ASDs. Other therapeutic modalities (individual talk therapy, group therapy, expressive arts therapy…etc.) can be beneficial for both the teen with ASD and the teenager’s loved ones to help learn skills and techniques to deal with some of the challenges that manifest from ASDs. Though there are no FDA approved medications that are specifically designed to treat Asperger’s or ASDs, there are some medications that can help alleviate some of the symptoms related to the disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), stimulant medications and antipsychotic medications are some of the types of medications prescribed by doctors to help with related symptoms (i.e. depression, anxiety…etc.). With the proper treatment, your teen can learn to manage many of the challenges of ASD and can go on live a successful life.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.