As awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) spreads, it is becoming increasingly common for many adults to begin to recognize signs and symptoms of autism in themselves and seek out more information. As many of these adults learn, finding information and answers isn’t typically a straightforward and simple process, as resources for adults with autism can be difficult to secure. Frequently, when resources are located, many people find long waitlists for diagnostic evaluations and a lack of professionals providing ongoing support services. Learning more about how autism may impact a person as an adult may be a helpful first step on this journey.
Many adults with autism have developed coping skills to help them be successful in their everyday lives and may not seek out a diagnosis until they go through a major life change or start having problems in their relationships or with their employers. If seeking out an autism diagnosis is a priority, the evaluation must be conducted by a qualified professional who has specific training in this area. Because many of the diagnostic checklists that are typically utilized are designed primarily for children, the evaluation will rely on primarily direct observation. The evaluator will be looking for signs of difficulty with social communication and for areas of restricted interest or repetitive behaviors. The symptoms will have been present early on in the persons’ development. If the changes are more recent, there may be other cognitive or mental health issues occurring and the person may need to seek further evaluation and support for those specific symptoms.
As a reminder, ASD is a spectrum disorder and everyone with the diagnosis may demonstrate differing levels of severity and be impacted by the symptoms differently. Areas of social communication that adults with autism struggle with may include difficulty starting and sustaining conversations – especially with conversations that don’t happen to be on their preferred topics, trouble reading social cues and emotional states, trouble with seeing things from differing points of view, and difficulty with emotional regulation. Recognizing restricted interests and repetitive behaviors may be more difficult in adults. They may look more like quirks (e.g., needing to follow a specific routine or keeping particular objects in specific places) or extreme interests (e.g., knowing tremendously detailed information on a favorite topic or obsessions with certain collectibles), and may be considered a strength if used in a productive way.
Just like children who may be diagnosed with ASD, adults with autism have a unique set of gifts that are assets to the people in their lives. Adults with ASD may have a very direct and honest style of communication, be incredibly loyal to the people in their lives, have a very logical way of thinking and problem solving, be great independent thinkers, and nonjudgmental listeners. Many adults who have been diagnosed with ASD live independently, have meaningful relationships, and maintain gainful employment.
Getting a diagnosis of autism may help to unveil why certain things have been extremely challenging for the individual throughout their lives and may open up the eyes of others to their unique circumstances, increasing understanding and acceptance. As more adults go through the process and seek out assistance, available services and providers will grow to meet the need. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) can be used to help teach skills for not only children, but for teens and adults, as well. Although many states may have age caps included in the mandates that require private insurances to pay for ABA, you can search for Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) in your area through the BACB website (https://www.bacb.com/) or ask your local regional office for additional information.
Link to resources from Autism Speaks:
Link to Autism Speaks Adult Toolkit: It Autism and If So, What Next? A Guide for Adults