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Unlocking the Mysteries of Autism: Understanding Symptoms in Adults


If you’re curious about autism, particularly autism symptoms in adults, you’re not alone. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continues to be a topic of extensive study and fascination among researchers and medical professionals. But what does autism look like in adults, and how is it diagnosed? Let’s dive deeper into the subject.

Autism in Adults: A Late Diagnosis

Traditionally, autism was primarily understood as a pediatric condition. However, this perspective has shifted significantly over the years, and the importance of diagnosing autism in adults is gaining recognition. The mean age of autism diagnosis in the US and UK is 4 to 5, but late diagnoses also occur, often due to symptom severity, socioeconomic status, and initial parental concerns. Adults diagnosed later in life usually present less severe symptoms and are more likely to achieve self-sufficiency and functionality. Yet, these individuals often face autism-related health issues without understanding the root cause​1​.

Understanding Autism Symptoms in Adults

The symptoms of autism in adults can differ from those observed in children. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common symptoms:

Social Symptoms

Adults on the autism spectrum often experience social and communication difficulties. It may be challenging for them to interpret nonverbal communications or to view situations from another person’s perspective. They may unintentionally make social blunders and require support to understand figurative language. They often have an intense memory for details, such as facts or names​1​.

Repetitive Behaviors

Repetitive behaviors are a notable symptom of autism in adults. This can include a preference for sameness and routine, dressing in comfortable clothes that may contradict social expectations, and being easily distracted by sounds or visual effects​1​.

Executive Function

Executive function refers to skills related to planning, organizing, attention maintenance, and self-regulation. Adults with autism may face challenges with complex planning and thinking, making it difficult to see the “big picture” ideas into which their intense subjects of focus fit. They may require support to set long-term goals and schedules, and may unintentionally forget appointments or have difficulty understanding broad theories while mastering minute details​1​.

The Path Ahead

As our understanding of autism continues to evolve, the need for reliable assessments and diagnostic measures for adults with autism is becoming increasingly clear. There is a call for more validated diagnostic assessments for adults and seniors with autism to provide them with the necessary medical and social support​1​.

Questions and Answers

  1. Question: What are some reasons why an adult might not have been diagnosed with autism despite showing signs or characteristics? Answer: There are several reasons why an adult might not have been diagnosed with autism. These include the signs or characteristics not being obvious to others, a lack of awareness about autism among people around them, the signs not significantly impacting the individual’s daily life, the individual having learned strategies to cope with their challenges, the financial and emotional costs of an assessment, the presence of another diagnosis that could explain some of the signs, or the individual not wanting a formal diagnosis.
  2. Question: What are some common signs and characteristics of autism in adults? Answer: Autism in adults can manifest in various ways, including difficulties in joining conversations, using repetitive language, having trouble understanding others’ thoughts or emotions, dominating conversations, taking things literally, having trouble reading social cues, and finding it difficult to maintain eye contact. They may also have a preference for routine and schedules, have trouble regulating emotional responses, have specific interests or hobbies they spend a lot of time on, and have a strong or no reaction at all to sensory stimuli.
  3. Question: How can the signs and characteristics of autism impact an adult’s life? Answer: The impact of autism on an adult’s life can be both positive and negative. On the positive side, they may excel in a chosen area of study or career, notice details others miss, have increased empathy, and enjoy working independently. On the negative side, they may have problems obtaining or sustaining employment or education, difficulties in initiating or sustaining social relationships, and a history of neuro-developmental conditions or psychiatric difficulties.
  4. Question: What are some benefits of getting a diagnosis of autism as an adult? Answer: Getting a professional diagnosis of autism can have several benefits. It may help the individual receive appropriate funding and support, help their family, friends, and colleagues understand them better, provide a greater sense of self-identity, give a better understanding of their childhood or adolescent experiences, and increase confidence knowing they are part of a larger group of like-minded adults.
  5. Question: How can an adult seek a diagnostic assessment for autism? Answer: To seek an assessment for autism, an adult can contact their state or territory autism association, talk to a qualified health professional with experience in autism diagnosis, make an appointment with their GP for a referral, or refer themselves for an assessment. There are both government-funded services and private practitioners that specialize in autism diagnosis.
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