Autism in Adults
Thanks to an increase in awareness and understanding, diagnosing autism in adults has become easier for mental health experts.
Autism is a serious developmental disorder that affects a person’s behaviour and communication. This is a developmental disorder because you can see the signs during the first two years of life. The disorder is out there across all ages, races, and socioeconomic & ethnic groups.
However, most people have this since their childhood. Sometimes those with high-functioning autism aren’t diagnosed until much later in life. A diagnosis, no matter how late, can offer understanding and relief.
How is Autism in Adults Diagnosed?
Autism in adults can be tricky to diagnose. People with high-functioning autism mistakenly recognize as having ADHD or anxiety. Certainly, no two adults with autism will have the same symptoms or problems. Also, adults with autism have learned ways to cope. Over the years, they have learnt skills to reduce their problems. This makes diagnosis more challenging.
Meanwhile, you will be able to see the signs of autism in three areas:
- Formal and repetitive behaviours: Needing to maintain formal behaviours or certain patterns. These often interfere with the quality of your life.
- Social interactions: You perceive the people around you and your environment differently than others do.
- Verbal and non-verbal behaviours: It is hard for you to communicate with people, and you find it difficult to process and verbalise your thoughts.
Let’s take a look at the common signs of autism in adults.
Common Symptoms of Autism in Adults
The most common signs of the disorder include:
- Finding it hard to keep to social norms in situations.
- You don’t feel that you’re able to keep conversations going.
- It’s hard for you to meet new people and talk to them.
- You feel like you cannot share your interests and hobbies with people.
- You find it hard to share how you feel.
- People often find you uninterested, even when you don’t mean to be.
- Feel very anxious in social situations.
- You often prefer being on your own and find it hard to be around people.
- Prefer your routine and find it hard when you have to change how you do things.
- You cannot show body language, facial expressions, and other signs
- It is hard for you to control your emotions.
You do not need to tick all the boxes in order to have autism.
Other Signs of High-Functioning Autism
Let’s take a look at some other signs of autism in adults.
- Trying to avoid eye contact.
- Inability to understand certain social rules and sticking to them.
- Planning things before doing them.
- Noticing patterns, smells, sounds, and details that other people don’t.
- Struggle with the idea or concept of personal space.
- It’s hard for you to build and maintain close friendships.
It’s Important to See a Specialist
If you think that you have autism, it is best to seek help from an expert.
The problem with diagnosing autism is that no two people have the same symptoms. Our gender, personality styles, intelligence all play a part in who we are. It’s not just autism. Unfortunately, there aren’t standard diagnostic criteria in place to diagnose autism in adults. Different places in the world use different diagnostic rules. Plus, the rules around diagnosis are somewhat vague and have changed over the years.
Diagnosis of autism is generally made by psychiatrists or psychologist. A series of in-person interactions and observations help the expert make the diagnosis.
The expert will enquire about many things, such as your issues with emotions, communication, interests, behavioural patterns, etc. You may even be asked to bring in your parents for developmental history and behavioural patterns. They may ask to speak to your work colleagues and friends.
Autism in Men and Women: There are Gender Differences
The symptoms are different for men and women.
Autism is diagnosed up to 5 times more often in males compared to females. It is unclear exactly why this is the case. Some expert has suggested that women are better able to ‘mask’ or ‘camouflage’ their symptoms. Others have suggested that the rules around diagnosing women need to change. That we should have different criteria for men and women.
A Quick Look at High-Functioning Autism
People with high-functioning autism don’t require the same support as people on the other end of the spectrum. The symptoms of high-functioning autism include the following:
Difficulties planning and organising
It can be hard for people with high-functioning autism to organise and plan things–such as their goals for life, long-term projects, making schedules, etc.
This can also make it tough for one to manage schedules or deal with minor changes to one’s daily routine.
Sensory overload is a major concern for people with high-functioning autism. It usually happens due to over-stimulation due to the environment. This makes it difficult for people with autism to be around noise, crowds, strong smells and tastes.
Places like the mall, crowded restaurants, movie theatres, etc., may also be hard for them to bear. They might find it hard travelling on noisy buses or planes.
It may be hard for people with autism to pick up on body language and social cues. Especially when they’re talking to someone. They can find it difficult to get a job, make friends, find a romantic partner, etc.
Depression and Anxiety
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are common among people diagnosed with high-functioning autism. Some researchers believe that they could be a result of frustration and social rejection.
It may be hard for people with autism to regulate their emotions. For example, when something new or unexpected happens. These issues may seem like small inconveniences to us but maybe extremely emotionally draining for people with high-functioning autism.
For example, someone with high-functioning autism may get upset if their everyday lunch is changed.
Problems Having Conversations
People with high-functioning autism have no problems understanding the meaning of words and the rules of grammar. What they do struggle with is using the language to communicate with a person.
For example, they might not be able to understand subtle undertones to the conversation, such as sarcasm, idioms, metaphors, etc. and may take everything at face value.
Levels of Distress in Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostics and Statistical Manual-V, Autism Spectrum Disorders have three severity levels:
- 1: This is also known as high-functioning autism and requires minimal support.
- 2: These include marked deficits in social communication and inflexibility of behaviour, requiring substantial support.
- 3: Severe deficits are seen, and people require very substantial support to survive.
Autism in Adults: Difference to keep in mind
Autism can look very different for different people.
- Some may have highly successful careers in demanding professions, such as video game production, art creation, robotics, and more.
- Others may attend day programs while working part-time jobs.
- Those with level 3 deficits may not be able to work due to their condition and live in assisted-living facilities.
- Some can be married, raise children and be highly involved with their young families
- Some may be unmarried, partnered, live with their parents or live alone; following pursuits that give them great joy.
People can fall anywhere on the autism spectrum, which is why the treatment protocol is different for different people.
What Can I Expect? Getting Diagnosed with Autism as an Adult
It may come as a relief once you’re formally diagnosed with autism. You’ll be able to gain a greater understanding and insight into yourself. You’ll learn more about how to take on the challenges you face.
The diagnosis will also help you understand your strengths.
Getting diagnosed with autism will also help bring many things into perspective. For instance childhood memories, your relationships with your friend and family members, etc.
With this new insight, you get a better understanding of how your mind works. You will be able to come up with coping strategies for you to overcome your issues.
How is Autism in Adults Treated?
There’s no cookie-cutter treatment for adults with autism. The course of treatment largely depends on the symptoms you have.
The course of treatment involves applied behavioural, cognitive, social and verbal therapy. You may also need additional intervention for other challenges that you might be experiencing, such as depression, anxiety, job difficulties, social isolation, etc.
Treatment for autistic adults may also include:
- Prescription medication for additional issues, such as anxiety and depression.
- Family counselling for the issues faced at home.
- Group therapy.
- Occupational therapy, including workplace set-up and learning to use sensory tools.
Connecting with other adults on the autistic spectrum is also an excellent way to learn about autism. There are many support groups. Search online to find the nearest one to you.
Your Guide to Living With Autism
Autistic Spectrum Disorder has no cure. However, treatment options help manage the symptoms. Here’s what symptom management and living with autism can look like for an adult.
Learning about Autism
This involves educating yourself about autism and identifying with the diagnosis. Learning about autism will help you feel validated about your feelings. It will allow you the chance to find solutions to the problems you’re facing. Your friends and family will benefit from learning they do too.
This can help you cope with the challenges you face in your professional life by offering you the opportunity to explore career changes, volunteering roles, and further education.
The diagnosis brings with it a range of issues, such as anxiety, stress, feelings of isolation, etc. A therapist can help you learn and adapt with better coping skills and healthier habits.
Peer support groups are an excellent way to find and connect with other people on the autism spectrum and find a way to navigate the challenges they face. This also provides you with a sense of belonging.
Autistic Adults and Their Partners
Some adults with autism are capable of maintaining successful long-term friendships and relationships. However, these relationships are not free from certain challenges.
Usually, when an adult is diagnosed with autism, the diagnosis may also follow their child’s diagnosis—dealing with the initial shock of the diagnosis and the lifestyle that it brings with it may be difficult for the partner to process. Counselling and therapy often help the couple cope with the challenges that are to come.
Other issues that can creep into the relationship include:
- Communication breakdowns
The partner may need space, others to talk to, supports and time apart to pursue the things they hold dear to themselves.
In Conclusion: Understanding Autism in Adults
Autistic children become autistic adults. However, those with high-functioning autism aren’t diagnosed until later in life. The diagnosis can come both as a shock and relief as it provides better insight and understanding into certain behaviours.
Since each person is unique, so are the symptoms they experience, making the diagnosis even trickier.
People with high-functioning autism have relatively normal lives but face certain issues regarding their social life, mental health, and sensory issues. The course of treatment usually includes a combination of medication and therapy.
You can also seek relationship counselling and supportive care if your partner has been diagnosed with autism.