The news media, pediatricians' offices, and parenting books are all full of information about autism in children; however, it can be a challenge to identify adult autism. In decades past, autism received far less attention from the medical and education communities than it does today. This means that there are likely thousands of adults living with undiagnosed autism. Learning about adult autism symptoms can help these individuals find treatment options.
Ten Adult Autism Symptoms
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnosing autism in adults can present a significant challenge. Adults may not have a complete medical and developmental history for their first few years of life, and they may have established coping behaviors that can mask the disorder.
If you're wondering whether you or another adult you know may be on the autism spectrum, it can help to take a look at some of the common symptoms of this disorder in adults. Keep in mind that having one or two of these symptoms does not indicate autism. If an adult has several symptoms, there may be cause for concern.
According to WebMD, the following symptoms may indicate that an individual has an autism spectrum disorder.
Few Friendships or Relationships
Forming close relationships can be challenging for adults on the autism spectrum. Idiosyncratic behaviors and language limitations can severely affect these individuals' ability to form friendships. Additionally, limited perspective-taking abilities and difficulty listening to others can present a challenge in relationships.
Similarly, romantic relationships can be incredibly difficult for individuals with autism. In addition to the challenges that come with regular friendships, there are many non-verbal cues associated with romantic interactions.
Non-Verbal Communication Challenges
For many adults with autism, non-verbal communication can present a significant challenge. These individuals may have difficulty interpreting facial expressions and gestures. They may find it hard to establish and maintain eye contact while talking with others.
Adults with autism may feel that they are always "missing" something when interacting with other people. If you find that you frequently misread other people, it may mean you have this characteristic of autism.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Many people with autism experience extreme over- or under-sensitivity to stimuli, known as sensory processing disorder or sensory integration dysfunction. According to Psychology Today, this sensory processing disorder can present a major social challenge for autistic adults. Meeting new people brings new sensory information, including smells, sounds, sights, and other types of input. This can lead autistic adults to avoid new social interactions.
If you find that you cannot stand certain sensations or constantly crave a particular type of sensory input, you may have this disorder. If the sensory challenges interfere with your ability to interact socially and also correspond with other symptoms of adult autism, you may be on the spectrum.
Lack of Empathy and Shared Perspective
Understanding where other people are coming from can be challenging for all adults, but for those with autism, it can be extremely difficult. Many individuals with autism struggle to understand the perspectives of others, and this can lead to a lack of empathy. It also makes it difficult for autistic adults to share another person's interest in a topic.
Adults with autism may notice that it is difficult to sympathize with other people and that they do not understand what others want, feel, or think. Additionally, this perspective challenge can also present a problem when it comes to humor, and autistic adults may misunderstand jokes. The lack of empathy and perspective-sharing can lead to many social problems.
Verbal Communication Problems
According to WebMD, up to 40% of people diagnosed with autism may never learn to speak. Adults who are completely non-verbal may be on the autism spectrum, but verbal communication can still present a challenge for those who can speak at an age-appropriate level.
Autistic adults may find it challenging to make their needs known to others or to start and maintain a conversation. They may find that the words they want to say simply disappear when they begin talking. Processing thoughts into spoken language may be very challenging.
Preoccupation with Certain Items or Topics
One hallmark of adult autism is limited interests. Many autistic adults are extremely knowledgeable about certain topics, such as aviation, engineering, word origins, history, and many other areas. This hyper-focus on a particular area of interest can be extremely enjoyable for the individual, but it can present major challenges as well.
If you are very interested in a particular topic and discuss this topic at length with other people, this can be an indication of autism. The intense interest, coupled with perspective-taking challenges, can result in social difficulties if other people are not interested in the topic.
Repetitive and Stereotyped Behaviors
For some autistic individuals, repeating the same words, phrases, or behaviors can provide great comfort. The outcome of these routines in predictable and is under the control of the individual. However, these repetitive behaviors do not serve a practical, social, or communication function.
Need for Routine
For autistic individuals of any age, there are a lot of unknowns in the world. Many social and communication skills others take for granted are mysterious to those on the spectrum. One way to provide comfort and predictability is to rely on routines.
In autistic adults, this need for routine can take many forms:
- Dislike of travel
- Refusal to try new foods or restaurants
- Following the same schedule every day
- Feeling great discomfort when you need to deviate from your routine
- Difficulty changing plans
- Following the same route to get from one place to another
According to WebMD, up to ten percent of autistic individuals display some kind of savant skill. This means that they excel in a particular area, such as mathematics, music, or history. Autistic adults may have exceptional memories, allowing them to remember entire chapters and books of information.
Sleep Problems and Anxiety
WebMD also reports that as many as 70% of autistic people have problems with sleep. This may be due to sensory issues. While insomnia itself is not a characteristic of autism, this is something to keep in mind if you have other autism symptoms.
According to The National Autistic Society, anxiety is a common problem in adults with autism. This anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including concentration problems, difficulty controlling your temper, preoccupation with a topic, and depression.
Taken alone, these adult autism symptoms do not indicate a problem. As with many disorders, individual symptoms are common in the general population. However, if you notice that you or someone you know displays several of these characteristics, you should consult a professional. Speak to your regular doctor about a referral to an autism specialist, or consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. With treatment and activities for autistic adults, you'll be able to improve your quality of life significantly.