Signs of Autism in Adults

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects how a person communicates, interacts, and behaves with others. Autism is also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because it can vary widely in its symptoms and severity. Some people with autism may have mild challenges, while others may have more severe difficulties.

Autism usually appears in early childhood, often before the age of 3. However, some people may not be diagnosed with autism until adulthood, either because their symptoms were overlooked or misinterpreted, or because they learned to cope or hide their difficulties. Therefore, it is important for adults who suspect they may have autism to seek professional help and get a proper diagnosis.

What are the signs of autism in adults?

The signs of autism in adults can be similar to those in children, but they may also present differently or more subtly. Adults with autism may have problems with social communication and interaction skills, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests.

Social communication and interaction skills

Adults with autism may have problems with social communication and interaction skills, such as:

    • Difficulty understanding what others are thinking or feeling.

    • Getting very anxious about social situations.

    • Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.

    • Seeming blunt, rude, or not interested in others without meaning to.

    • Finding it hard to say how they feel.

    • Taking things very literally – for example, not understanding sarcasm or phrases like “break a leg”.

    • Having difficulty following social “rules”, such as not talking over people.

    • Avoiding eye contact or getting too close to other people.

    • Noticing small details, patterns, smells, or sounds that others do not.

    • Having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities.

Restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests

Adults with autism may have restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests that can seem unusual or obsessive. These behaviors or interests can include:

    • Lining up objects and getting upset when the order is changed.

    • Repeating words or phrases over and over (called echolalia) or using unusual language.

    • Playing with toys the same way every time or focusing on parts of objects (for example, wheels).

    • Getting upset by minor changes in routine or environment.

    • Having narrow or intense interests that exclude other topics.

    • Flapping hands, rocking body, spinning self, or making unusual movements.

    • Having unusual reactions to sensory stimuli, such as sounds, smells, tastes, textures, or lights.

Other characteristics

Some adults with autism may also have other related characteristics that can affect their development and functioning. These can include:

    • Delayed language skills or difficulty speaking clearly.

    • Delayed motor skills or difficulty with balance, coordination, or fine movements.

    • Delayed cognitive skills or difficulty with learning, memory, reasoning, or problem-solving.

    • Hyperactive, impulsive, inattentive, or aggressive behavior.

    • Epilepsy or seizure disorder.

    • Unusual eating and sleeping habits.

    • Gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation).

    • Unusual mood or emotional reactions.

    • Anxiety, stress, or excessive worry.

    • Lack of fear or more fear than expected

It is important to note that not all adults with autism will have all or any of the signs listed here. Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that each person will have a unique pattern and level of symptoms. Some people may have more obvious signs, while others may have more subtle ones. Some people may have signs that change over time, while others may have signs that stay the same.

How can you get help for yourself?

If you notice any signs of autism in yourself, or if you have any concerns about your development, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible. The doctor can screen you for autism and refer you to a specialist for further evaluation and diagnosis if needed.

Getting diagnosed with autism as an adult can be helpful for many reasons. It can help you understand yourself better, access the services and support you need, and connect with other people who share your experiences. It can also help you cope with any challenges you may face in your personal, social, or professional life.

There are various treatments and therapies available for adults with autism that can improve their skills, behaviors, and quality of life. The type and intensity of treatment will depend on your individual needs and goals. Some common types of treatment include:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a type of psychotherapy that helps you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that affect your emotions and functioning.

    • Social skills training: This is a type of therapy that helps you learn and practice social skills, such as making eye contact, starting conversations, expressing emotions, and taking turns.

    • Occupational therapy: This is a type of therapy that helps you develop and improve your daily living skills, such as self-care, organization, time management, and problem-solving.

    • Speech therapy: This is a type of therapy that helps you improve your communication skills, such as speaking clearly, understanding others, using gestures, and reading social cues.

    • Medication: This is a type of treatment that helps you manage some symptoms of autism, such as anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, or aggression. Medication should be used along with other types of treatment.

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We acknowledge Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities as the Traditional Custodians of the land we work on and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging. We recognise that their sovereignty was never ceded.

We are committed to cultivating inclusive environments for staff, consumers, and carers. We celebrate, value, and include people of all backgrounds, genders, sexualities, cultures, bodies, and abilities.