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What are the Signs of Asperger's in Teenagers?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Asperger's syndrome is a type of developmental disorder that usually impairs a person's ability to communicate well with others. Although symptoms are sometimes caught in the childhood years, diagnosing Asperger's in adolescents or teens happens more often. Symptoms of Asperger's in teenagers often include difficulty communicating, poor social skills, and intense interest in certain subjects or hobbies. In some cases, the condition can lead to a number of social, academic, and anxiety disorders.

One of the main characteristics of Asperger's syndrome is the inability to communicate with others effectively. These communication delays can lead to social isolation, especially in the teenage years, when socialization is a very important aspect in life. Teenagers with Asperger's syndrome may try to have conversations with their peers, but many times, they find it difficult to empathize with others. For example, a teen may not be able to sense when others are having a bad day and just want to be left alone. In this case, the individual may try to carry on a conversation with someone anyway, resulting in the person getting angry or upset.

A teenager with Asperger's syndrome may be seen as annoying or weird by his peers. In many cases, the individual is not usually interested in the newest fads and fashions. He will typically wear old, ratty clothes to school. This is not necessarily because he has no interest in fitting in, though; he simply finds old clothes comfortable and familiar. Blatant disregard for fashion trends, especially in the teenage years, can often lead to others seeing an individual as different or odd.

Teenagers with Asperger's also have a tendency to ramble on about certain interests of theirs, with complete disregard as to whether the other party in the conversation is interested. Intense interest in one hobby is another common sign of Asperger's in teenagers. Many times, this interest will be something that is considered to be a bit childish in comparison with the interests of their peers.

Generally, the teen will excel in some subjects but struggle with others. Subjects like math and programming seem to be the easiest, since the concepts are more structured and follow certain rules. When dealing with Asperger's, it is not uncommon to find that many teens follow most rules strictly and literally. This is also a contributing factor to social isolation, since the teenage years are typically when children will start to break rules and push limits.

A combination of all of these signs of Asperger's can eventually cause the teen to be a social outcast. He may be labeled as a nerd, geek, or weirdo, and he may be targeted by bullies. Depression and anxiety are not uncommon in teenagers with Asperger's syndrome. Some teens are also more aggressive with others because they feel like they are different or outcasts, and they are also at a higher risk for suicide.

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Discussion Comments
By anon989040 — On Feb 16, 2015

I think the greatest misconception, by far, is that not all teens with aspergers are socially isolated or dressed ratty. In my case (as someone with this condition) I've notoriously dressed too nicely and cared too much about my appearance. Here's the thing. Naturally, most people want to wear comfortable and familiar clothes, however they are concerned with how others will perceive them. Most aspies share that urge, but they don't quite care or understand how others perceive them.

In my case, I dress extremely well and many people appreciate it. Thing is, I go overboard sometimes and dress to nicely and shave/bathe obsessively. I don't care about what other people think (I do it even on a lazy weekend day spent alone) and that is where the Asperger's in me shines through. Likewise, I do have friends and am able to maintain relationships, however I can't empathize with them or fell close to them, almost as though it's all fake. The point is, teens with Asperger's are quite diverse, so never generalize us as being outcasts.

By anon968101 — On Aug 31, 2014

Should I force my 13 year old son to talk and play with the boys his age at our church? The boys at our church are great with my son. They don't tease him and they always ask him if he wants to play catch or something. My son still won't talk to them; he just walks around by himself or goes and sits in the grass. He is verbal but has a really hard time carrying on a conversation.

By anon314065 — On Jan 16, 2013

I have always had all of these symptoms, and have been certain that I have this syndrome. I have never been formally diagnosed by anyone, but I am sure if any teacher I had in the past was asked now, that they would probably say yes, they think that diagnosis fits me.

By anon284399 — On Aug 09, 2012

I read your post out of an interest in reading about my most prominent diagnosis from childhood and was a little appalled, though happily, to find out that you know about much of what you are talking about. However, there was one small thing that irked me. Where you say "He will typically wear old, ratty clothes to school. This is not necessarily because he has no interest in fitting in, though. He simply finds old clothes comfortable and familiar. " and where you say "Subjects like math and programming seem to be the easiest, since the concepts are more structured and follow certain rules." These do not seem to be consistent 'symptoms' of Asperger's Syndrome. My behaviors as a child and now, for the most part, match everything else you have described, though.

But back to those quotes. I never cared to dress like all the other kids. I cared more about making myself happy and comfortable. The only thing I cared about other than the designs on my clothes was that they were clean and somewhat new. Also, until this past year in college, math was my weakest subject. However, as an example, I still prove your point about Aspies doing best at subjects that have rules. English has tons of rules that I can't remember the names of and it was and still is my absolute best subject (other than drawing cartoons, but that's another story). I learned the rules starting at a very young age and since then, when I would write, I would remember all of the rules subconsciously and obey them all.

Also, you might want to mention the idea that a lot of Aspies seem to be extra sensitive to lighting and noise. An Aspie like myself could get picked on in school for freaking out in reaction to the way a room is lit or for spasing when the fire alarm goes off. And in response to the person above me, there may be a level of Asperger's Syndrome where someone may not be able to feel empathy, but if you work with the person for long enough, they will get better. To an extent, though, I am not quite sure I understand, because I grew up feeling all the emotions on the inside. But if someone had told me they were tired and I was sitting in the only available seat, as a child or younger teen, I would have thought to myself, "Well, I could move over and let her sit down, but what if she is just joking? If she is, if I move, she's just going to laugh at me and that'll be one less friend I can have." You see, it isn't that we don't feel empathy, it is that we get generally confused or lost, trying to decipher what the other person actually means.

And this brings me to another part of this subject. A lot of Aspies seem to have trouble reading facial expressions or voice tones and, in turn, have issues reproducing those same actions in conversations with other people. My mother had to work with me for more than ten years before I finally learned how to change my voice as if I were reading a good book out loud and to know when to smile, when to lift an eyebrow, when to change subject in a conversation. It took her ten years of hard work with me and I'm still not perfect. I'm not like other people. I don't remember to do these things subconsciously. In fact, as I am talking, I have to actually remember every little thing she taught me, which sometimes makes it harder to focus on the conversation at hand without making an awkward silence.

Since I have been "trained" to get embarrassed when I "mess up" in conversation, I often wind up clamming up and forgetting to smile, even. It isn't that I don't like the person I'm talking to, it's just me being afraid to mess up after all the times my mother has scolded me for messing up. But on the occasions where I decide to ignore my will to clam up, I get things done and feel like I could be a leader if I tried. After all, I'm not so bad at giving speeches. I suppose if I wrote a speech for a campaign and read it loudly and authoritatively, people would listen.

Well, I'm sure all that I wrote sounds like a confusing mess, but in short, I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in the third grade and have come a long way since then, according to my friends and family. And here's a random fact about myself to back me up on my emotions thing. First, if you can't empathize, you can't sympathize. When I was little, when I would watch the Rankin & Bass Rudolph TV Special, upon finding out that no child wanted to play with any of the Misfit Toys, my heart sank and I wanted to grab them all up in my arms and have a party for them to cheer them up. And I still do, despite the fact that I am in college and I no longer play with normal toys on a daily basis (the only exceptions being my collectibles like my super rare InuYasha doll and the Astro Boy 2009 series 1 figure I got at Disney World. I sometimes play with them a little.).

One last thing. This came to mind when I mentioned two of my toys. After mom taught me better social behavior, it seems that my current obsession changes more frequently than it used to. Even though it was anime and manga for the past ten years (and each year a different series), in the past two or three years, it has been Walt Disney, Broadway Musicals, Tim Burton and Jim Henson -- all at the same time. Although, when I look back at my anime and manga (which I still love and enjoy), I always think, no matter how many animals I have liked in the past, I think my top favorites will always be InuYasha, Pokemon, Death Note and Astro Boy. I think that something that my mom did has caused me to have multiple obsessions simultaneously and sometimes I find it really weird.

By sneakers41 — On May 29, 2011

@Oasis11 -I have heard of symptoms of aspergers in children manifesting itself that way. I also know that aspergers syndrome and autism are linked in a spectrum where autism is the low functioning disorder, while aspergers is on the higher functioning disorder spectrum.

In autism there is no awareness and very limited ability regarding social skills is concerned while those with aspergers can become involved in a conversation with others but just don’t care how the other person feels.

They also can’t read social cues and have to go to cognitive behavioral therapy in order to learn how to interact properly with peer groups. It is really a misunderstood condition because many of these kids are very bright and are able to communicate with others but people often label them as weird or uncaring.

By oasis11 — On May 28, 2011

I heard that diagnosing aspergers is really difficult because it mirrors many other disorders. A lot of times it gets confused with ADHD but Aspergers syndrome is very different.

The only distinct aspergers symptom that I can point out is the inability to empathize with people. For example, when my daughter was in a party and was really tired, a boy with Aspergers sat in the only available seat before she had a chance to and said, “Too bad, I got here first.” This really seemed a little rude until I realized that part of Aspergers was the inability to feel empathy for someone which was very clear in this case.

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