Diagnosing Autism in Adults

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Only recently have we begun to fully understand autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We know that it is a spectrum disorder, meaning you might have mild symptoms, severe symptoms or anywhere in between. We know that it is a lifelong condition and can impact social interactions and communication throughout your life. The recent increase in diagnoses raises questions. Yes, one of the reasons might be because we are more aware of the symptoms. But another reason could be that there are many adults with ASD that have never received a diagnosis. Maybe because they have mild symptoms and would be considered High-functioning. Or maybe because they were diagnosed with something else when younger.

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    Why Get a Diagnosis of Autism?

     

    If you believe you, a loved one or a friend has ASD but has never received a diagnosis, it isn’t too late to talk with a doctor and be diagnosed with ASD. Some of the reasons adults seek a diagnosis of ASD include:

    • Understanding yourself. Once you receive a diagnosis and begin to learn about ASD, you can better understand why you have difficulties in social situations. It can help you understand why you don’t seem to get how neurotypical people think and why they don’t get how you think. Putting a name to the problems you have can help you accept yourself.
    • Having family and friends better understand you. When you learn about ASD, and share this knowledge with your family and friends, they can better understand why you do certain things or think in certain ways. They may be better able to accept you, exactly as you are and better empathize with your difficulties.
    • Receiving services. There are many services and resources available for those with ASD, but, in order to utilize these, you must be able to show you have a diagnosis. Going through the process of getting a diagnosis can help you take advantage of services in your area.

    Some people prefer to not get a diagnosis. They might read about ASD and be pretty sure it relates to them. They might self-diagnosis but decide not to get an “official” diagnosis. They might think a diagnosis will prevent them from getting ahead at work or cause others to discriminate against them. They might feel the knowledge is important and helpful but they don’t have the need for services and therefore don’t need a diagnosis. Instead they might use the information only to better understand themselves.

     

    Signs of Autism in Adults

     

    Autism isn’t necessarily the same in each person. While there are some common, core symptoms, each person might have a different combination and severity of symptoms. Some of signs of autism in adults include:

    • Difficulty understanding and using non-verbal communication. This includes not being able to read or interpret facial expressions and gestures, not making eye contact with others during conversations and not changing facial expressions when talking.
    • Having none or a few friendships/relationships. Individuals with autism often find it difficult to form close friendships or relationships with others. They might prefer to spend time alone or may find the dynamics of relationships difficult and exhausting.
    • Lack of empathy. Understanding different perspectives is difficult for many people with ASD. They have trouble understanding what other people want, need, think or feel.
    • Problems with verbal communication. Many people with autism remain nonverbal throughout their lives. Those that do learn to speak may still have trouble communicating and expressing their thoughts and feelings. They may find it difficult to engage in conversations.
    • Repetitive behaviors. Some people with autism engage in repetitive behaviors. These actions often provide comfort or may help you calm down in frustrating situations. Repetitive behaviors can include repeating a certain word or phrase.
    • Sensory difficulties. You may be hypersensitive or hyposensitive to odors, bright lights or noises. You might reject certain foods because of their taste or texture. You might find you don’t get cold as easily as other people. Many people are able to manage sensory difficulties without much problems, others find their sensitivities interfere with their daily lives or prevent them from participating in social interactions.
    • Strong interests in certain items or topics. Children with autism are known for “special interests.” They might be fascinated with trains, pots and pans or any number of other items. While these interests might go away, many adults with autism still have a particular topic or item of interest. You might find you can discuss the topic for hours, without realizing that those around you are not interested.
    • Routines. You might have a strong need for routine in your life. You might need to do things a certain way or need to travel the same route each day. You might have trouble if plans change or be uncomfortable if you cannot follow your routine.

    Autism in adults can be hard to diagnose because you might have created coping mechanisms or learn to hide some of the symptoms. This is especially true for those with mild or high-functioning autism.

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    Where to Start

     

    If you decide you want to pursue a diagnosis of ASD, the best place to start is with your family doctor. If you find it difficult to explain why you think you have autism, you can go through one of the free online screening tests and, if possible, print out the results to bring with you to the doctor’s office. If the screening test doesn’t allow you to print out the results, make a note of some of the questions and your answers to help you better explain why you think you have ASD.

     

    Some screening tests:

    While these screening tools are not meant as a diagnostic tool, they may help you better decide if you should speak with a doctor.

     

    Your doctor might refer you to a specialist for further assessment.  During the diagnostic process, you will be asked questions similar those found on the screening tool. You will also be asked about your developmental history, such as when you first walked, talked or hit other milestones. You might need to ask your parents for some of this information. Because there isn’t any laboratory tests to diagnose autism, you will not need to have blood drawn or be asked to go for any other physical tests.

     

    References:

     

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

     

    “Autism in Adults,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, NHC Choices

     

     

Published On: August 27, 2014