Adult Autism: The Challenges and Prospects

Today, there are thousands of adults who suffer from untreated autism and have difficulty finding information and programs to support their needs. There is much written about children with this condition, however very little is spoken about adult autism, and there may also be so many adults living undiagnosed. Knowing some of the common symptoms and facts about autism will help you figure out whether you are living with autism as an adult.

Am I autistic?

It’s quite common for people to have gone through life without a diagnosis of autism, feeling that somehow they don’t quite fit in. Many people learn to cope with life in their own ways, and they might be married or living with a partner, have families or successful careers. On the other hand, some adults may be more isolated and find things much more of a struggle. Such adults may find a formal diagnosis helpful.

Some Common Symptoms of Adult Autism

Diagnosing autism in adults can prove challenging, however, there are common symptoms of autism that can be recognized in adults.  Here are some of them to watch out for.  Remember, if you only have one or two of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you suffer from autism.  Look for several of these symptoms as a cause for concern.

Common Symptoms of Adult Autism

Image Courtesy: AJSLP

You could do a self-assessment with the symptoms listed below.

Few Friendships

  • Adults who have autism typically find it hard to develop and sustain close relationships and friendships with others.  Language limitations, listening difficulties, and idiosyncratic behavior can limit the ability to form friendships.

Romantic Difficulties

  • As with friendships, romantic relationships can be extremely difficult for individuals with autism to develop.  People with autism have trouble reading non-verbal cues and cannot communicate properly, which hinders their success with romantic interaction.

Sensory Processing

  • Persons with autism have either extreme sensitivity or lack of sensitivity when it comes to stimuli.  This is known as sensory processing disorder or sensory integration dysfunction.  Sensory processing contributes to various social challenges in adults with autism.

Empathy Struggles

  • Adults with autism cannot process or understand the perspectives of other people and this will result in a lack of empathy or shared views.  All of these struggles lead to social problems because adults with autism find it difficult to cope with situations that involve group activities or discussions.

Verbal Problems

  • Nearly 40% of adults with autism never learn to speak.  This means that adults who have challenges with speaking at their age level may suffer from autism.  Some common signs are: having trouble maintaining a conversation, difficulty in expressing their needs, or having trouble processing thoughts.

Uncommon preoccupations and short attention spans

  • Adults with autism display a limited interest.  However, it is important to note that they are extremely knowledgeable with certain topics in areas such as: aviation, engineering, word origins, or history.

 Repetitive Behaviors

  • Adults suffering from autism tend to repeat the same words, phrases, and behaviors throughout the day.  This makes their routines and habits very predictable and hinders them in settings where sociability or communication is involved.

Cling to routine

  • Most adults who suffer from autism cannot change daily routine, as they rely on familiarity.  Their need for routine can be seen in their:
    • Dislike or disinterest to travel.
    • Inability to try new foods or restaurants.
    • Adhering to the same schedule every day.
    • Feeling discomfort outside of a daily routine.
    • Difficulty changing plans.

Excelling in a particular area

  • Adults who are autistic display one savant skill where they excel in one particular area.  This one area could be anything from math or music to history.  They may also demonstrate exceptional memory abilities and IQ that allow them to remember large amounts of information.


  • Individuals who suffer from autism also are troubled with anxiety and sleep problems.  Almost 70% of autism suffers have sleep problems.  Anxiety also tends to lead to: concentration problems, temper control issues, and depression.

Benefits of a diagnosis

With awareness of autism so high today, it’s no longer as common for an autism diagnosis to be overlooked in childhood. However, this wasn’t always the case. As a result, it’s not infrequent to see teens and adults seeking a diagnosis, says neurologist David Beversdorf.

Some people see a formal diagnosis as an unhelpful label, but for many, getting a timely and thorough assessment and diagnosis may be helpful because:

  • it may help you (and your family, partner, employer, colleagues and friends) to understand why you may experience certain difficulties and what you can do about them
  • it may help women, and those with a demand avoidant profile, who may not before have been recognized as autistic by others
  • Autism (including Asperger syndrome) varies widely from person to person, so making a diagnosis can be difficult. A multi-disciplinary diagnostic team will make a diagnosis, which is the formal identification of autism.


The diagnostic process:

Autism Diagnostic Process

Image Courtesy: Slate

Step 1: speak to your GP

Book an appointment with your GP, and focus on your diagnosis as the subject of your visit to your GP.

Step 2: present your case

Your GP needs a reason to refer you for diagnosis, so you will have to explain why you think you could be autistic, and how a diagnosis would benefit you. Take an old schoolmate or family member with you.

Step 3: explain your situation

Explain to your GP your difficulties in adulthood and during childhood with communication, social interaction, sensory difficulties, friendships or employment, and the need for routine, and how much you think these affect the different areas of your life.

Step 4: the diagnostic assessment

Most adults see a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist or multi-disciplinary team for their diagnosis. You can take someone with you when you go for a diagnosis if you like -someone who knew you as a child, such as one of your parents or an older sibling. This is because they may be able to give important information about your childhood.

The diagnostic tools

There are several ‘diagnostic tools’ available, which will involve a series of questions about your developmental history from when you were a young child with regard to language, play and cognition. The signs of autism vary from one person to another, but in order for a diagnosis to be made, a person will usually be assessed as having had persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, activities or interests including sensory behavior, since early childhood, to the extent that these ‘limit and impair everyday functioning’.

Step 5: coming to terms with the results

If you are diagnosed as autistic, you may have a lot of questions. You may want more information about your condition, meet other autistic people, or access services and support. Post-diagnostic support is important. Some diagnostic teams and professionals provide follow-up services after diagnosis and might be able to answer your questions and point you towards support services.

The Diagnosis

When you receive a diagnosis in Autism, you will receive a diagnosis based on a particular subgroups in order to get to know a little bit more about each of them according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

Autistic disorder

Those with Autistic disorder will meet the basic criteria for autism diagnosis that is laid out by the DSM-IV.  Their functioning abilities can range from very high to very low.

Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS)

Adults who are diagnosed as PDD, may have some, but not all, of the symptoms that are defined in classic autism.  Their functioning level will generally be moderate to high.

Rett’s syndrome

Those who have Rett’s syndrome are usually female.  They display moderate or low functioning levels.  If an individual is diagnosed with Rett’s as a child, the disorder will continue to develop as they age and grow into adulthood.

Asperger’s syndrome

Individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome display high functioning level and good verbal skills.  Most of their disability lies in areas of social interactions and their skill to use language in a functional manner.

Asperger’s syndrome

Image Courtesy: Autism for a Life

In conclusion

Although there is currently no cure for autism, there is treatment that will allow for relatively normal development, and that can help to reduce certain undesirable behaviors though, special education, behavior modification and occupational therapy, for adults with autism. As an adult living with autism, it is heartening to know that you have the knowledge about Autism, and the comfort that you are not alone. You will have information about all the support and services to make life easier, and also to meet similar autistic persons in support-groups, or communicate through blogs or weekend group meetings.









Autism, Lifestyle