Autism in Adults

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Autism rates in children have soared over the past decade with the latest statistics showing 1 in every 68 children are on the autism spectrum. Hundred of studies have been completed to help us understand more about the condition, including early detection, diagnosis and ongoing treatment. But autism doesn’t just suddenly disappear as a person matures. It is a lifelong condition and symptoms continue to cause difficulties in communication and social skills throughout a person’s life.


    Because autism is a spectrum disorder, symptoms can range from mild to severe. For adults with severe autism, around-the-clock or daily care might be necessary throughout their lives. Others, with mild or moderate symptoms, might be able to work and live independently. In the past, fewer adults with autism than those without marry or have children, however, with more understanding and acceptance  and a developing “autism culture” where it is believed that autism is a way of being rather than a disorder, more adults with autism are marrying and having families, often with others who are also on the autism spectrum.

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    Symptoms of Autism in Adults


    Symptoms of autism in adults might show up a bit differently than in children. If someone has what is known as high functioning autism, he or she might have developed coping strategies to manage some of their symptoms but still have problems in social situations or with communication. Some ways that autism symptoms appear in adults include:


    Difficulty with understanding non-verbal cues. While some adults with autism might have learned to read some non-verbal cues, others might still have a problem reading behind the words, such as understanding when someone is angry by their facial expression or not knowing whether someone is joking or being sarcastic. This can be difficult when pursuing romantic relationships as non-verbal cues are important in these types of relationships.


    Taking language literally. As with non-verbal cues, adults with autism may have learned what certain idioms and figures of speech mean, however, when under stress or hurried, translating these phrases  into plain language can be difficult.


    Having few friends. Despite popular belief, connection to other people is important to adults with autism. They often want friendships or romantic relationships but  have trouble initiating and maintaining these relationships. Problems such as strict routines, and difficulties listening to others may interfere with a person’s ability to form relationships with others. Adults with autism may have one or two friends who understand autism but usually don’t have a variety of friends.


    Lack of empathy. Along with communication problems, those with autism have difficulty seeing situations from other people’s perspective, which can lead to others believing they are cold, callous or unfeeling.


    Sensory difficulties. As with children with autism, adults often have an over- or under- sensitivity to stimuli, including sights, sounds and smells. For example, an adult with autism might feel overwhelmed in a crowded, loud environment. These sensory difficulties can be severe enough to interfere with daily life.


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    Problems expressing needs, wants or opinions. Around 40 percent of those with autism never become verbal but even those who do speak can have problems finding the right words to express their opinion or communicate their needs. Just as they have problems reading non-verbal language, they also have problems using non-verbal language to help express themselves.


    Intense interests. One characteristic of autism is special interests and while adults with autism often learn to appreciate different types of experiences, many might still be focused on certain topics or interests. They might have extensive knowledge of a particular topic, such as computers or aviation, and talk about this topic at length, assuming others are just as interested. This can lead to further problems in social situations.


    Strict routines. Many adults with autism continue to live their daily lives according to strict routines. They find security in knowing what to expect and when to expect it. They become agitated when their routines are disrupted. This can be difficult when jobs call for varied duties or in relationships when the partner wants to do something that interferes with the routines, even eating at a different restaurant.


    Repetitive behaviors. Not all people with autism exhibit repetitive behaviors, however, for those that do, these behaviors provide comfort and security. An adult with autism might have the need to repeat words or phrases, making social communication difficult or awkward. They may need to complete certain rituals when arriving home and become agitated if they are not able to complete the behavior.


    Despite the difficulties, many adults with autism lead satisfying and productive lives. They enter into relationships, marry and have children. They find jobs that suit their personality and interests. As society continues to learn about, understand and accept autism, more and more adults will feel comfortable interacting, in their own way, with society.




    “Adults with Autism,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, National Alliance on Mental Illness


    “Asperger Syndrome and Adults,” Reviewed 2012, June, Staff Writer, Better Health Channel


    “Symptoms,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer,

Published On: May 21, 2014