There are currently no medical tests for autism as an adult. But it doesn’t mean you cannot self-diagnose yourself to know whether or not you have autism. Even if you do, it is not the end of the world. Thousands of adults with autism have managed to live life optimally with some helping tips. Lucky for you, we have those tips in this article, as well as the provision of possible support, aids you can reach out to.
Let’s start with why — why do people have autism? We can understand that some children are born with it. But what happens when you are not diagnosed with it, and suddenly you can experience it? There are a few reasons adults develop autistic traits. Some of them are:
- Abnormalities in the Brain: When the brain does not develop as it ought to, or there are abnormalities with your body metabolism, you could start to portray autistic traits. This is the same with abnormalities in the immune system.
- Environmental Factors: If you were already susceptible to it as a child, the environment you find yourself in could ‘push’ out the symptoms. Some of these environmental factors include places with air pollution, a child with low birth weight, etc.
- Gene Mutations: The final possible cause of adult autism might be linked to genetics or its mutations later during adulthood.
Autistic Traits in Adults
There are a few things you can use to suspect if you have the autistic trait. Note that the traits differ from one person to the other — and it also depends on your quirks. But the signs of autism in adults typically cycle around your way of doing things, how you feel, and how you think. It also includes your body language, how you interpret it, your general behaviour, preferences, interests, and social skills. If you notice that the way these happens is quite different from the general public (that is, the norm), then there’s a big chance you have autism as an adult.
Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults
It’s not just that autism is differently expressed in different individuals; it is that no two autistic people can have the same signs. Why? Autism is a spectrum: a whole list filled with a variety of symptoms, signs, impacts, effects, and experiences. That’s why it is called ASD — Autism spectrum disorder.
Signs of Autism in Adults
Most of the signs associated with autism make life especially difficult for adults that are yet to be diagnosed. Most of the time, they complain only about feeling “different, ” unlike the general public. This sometimes makes them feel abnormal or left out of the crowd. Sometimes, it’s not just about you facing the disorder, but the people around you might also notice these adult autism symptoms and tell you about your “different” behaviour. The signs of adult autism rallies around the following:
- repetitive behaviours
- difficulty communicating or interacting with others
- symptoms that influence functioning and life quality
- a narrow set of interests, etc.
The section below will expand on these signs better.
Adult Autism Symptoms
The symptoms of adult autism can be split into two (high-functioning and low-functioning). The difference between these types is based on the amount of support the patient gets. If you have autism and little support, you might be under the category of high-functioning autism. The following are the symptoms of high-functioning autism in adults:
Social communication behaviours
The first of the symptoms of autism in adults is about how you’d interact with others in a social environment. While participating in a conversation might be challenging, there are other issues that you might need help with in the social environment that might cause you to become socially inadequate. Some of these possible symptoms include:
- Inability to read facial expressions or body language.
- You cannot relate to others’ feelings. Hence, creating close relationships is a challenge.
- Your words are flat — without emotions or feelings. You almost talk like a robot. This method of speaking is consistent at home or work. You don’t know the difference between informal and formal speech.
- You (unintentionally) avoid eye contacts
- Figures of speech are difficult for you to understand.
Restrictive and repetitive behaviours
Aside from the troubles with social cues, you might also face adult autism symptoms related to repetitive behaviours. Some of these symptoms include the following:
- You like to stick to a single routine, such that a slight change in them can lead to meltdowns or outbursts (emotions the average person may classify as an exaggeration). The same goes for when something unexpected happens, or your things are rearranged or moved.
- Your daily routines, rituals, and schedules must be followed consistently, no matter what happens.
- You might not know how to deal with strange emotions or respond to emotions you are not used to.
These symptoms of autism in adults might not be categorisable in either of the two parts above, but they still stand as symptoms of autism you could experience as an adult. They include the following:
- You are either less or more sensitive to things like smell, touch, sound, or pain. An example could be screaming in pain just because someone tapped your shoulder.
- You are mostly judged as an academic or an eccentric.
- You might not be a team player — as you prefer to work alone (this could be related to your social inadequacy).
- You prefer to pick one or two areas of interest, and that’s all you know, want to know, and talk about. You are also very successful in these areas and might not be very successful in other areas.
- You have a strong memory for things you are interested in and can remember them for a very long time.
How to Deal with Adults with Autism?
Autism is not like a medical illness for which you can get prescription drugs. Most times, people with autism don’t even know that suffer from the mental health challenge. That’s why the way you’d deal with it is more mental and emotional than it is physical (drugs or injections). Within this section, there are four ways to deal with adult autism.
Interacting with like minds
Building and maintaining relationships will likely be challenging if you struggle to communicate effectively with others and they have difficulty understanding you. However, there are ways to cultivate a healthy social life. One approach is to consider sharing your diagnosis. Although discussing your diagnosis can be challenging, it becomes even more difficult because the stigma associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may make you hesitant to do so. Yet you need always to remember that though speaking about it will help you positively, the decision to disclose your diagnosis is entirely yours and depends on your comfort level. Informing close friends and family about your diagnosis can assist them in comprehending why you struggle to interpret their sarcastic remarks, for instance, or why certain sounds distressed you when they appear normal to others.
Also, connecting with other adults who have ASD can be beneficial. Engaging in conversations with people who have ASD may be less draining than other social interactions. While each person with ASD is unique, you share common experiences that can be discussed and understood.
Join a support group.
Anything you can do to ease your symptoms is to join a support group for people with autism. Not only will you be able to see like minds, but you will also be able to connect with medical practitioners that can help you better understand your neurodivergence. These support groups do not have to be physical, and they can be online and of varying sizes.
Work on your depression and anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety and depression are commonly experienced alongside symptoms of ASD by many individuals. For instance, challenges relating to others can often result in anxiety. This heightened anxiety, in turn, can further hinder effective communication, sometimes causing individuals to feel overwhelmed to the point where forming coherent sentences becomes difficult. Additionally, feelings of isolation can contribute to the onset of depression. However, there are strategies you can employ to better manage your mood and enhance your overall well-being. Some of these steps include the following:
- Engage in exercises for stress.
- Find people who share your interest and socialise with them
- Try yoga or other medication and relaxation techniques.
- Sleep and rest well.
Organise ALL aspects of your life.
Who says people with autism are not organised? Surely, you’ll be. But that would be only for the things you are interested in. What about the aspects you rarely pay attention to — are those parts organised? To help you stay on track, try using a timer or a daily planner, or you could even put some things on automation.
Helping Autistic Adults
If you are close to or know an adult with the signs of autism, the following is how you can help.
Get them a psychiatrist or psychologist.
A psychiatrist is a doctor that is qualified to make an official medical diagnosis of ASD. A psychologist can provide general counselling or therapy either individually or in a group setting. The psychiatrist may also prescribe you medication that could help to alleviate symptoms of disorders like anxiety or depression, which sometimes occur alongside ASD.
Many types of therapy are adopted when helping autistic adults. Some of these therapy sessions include occupational therapy, physical therapy, or even the famous CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).
Encourage their participation in support groups.
Numerous adults with autism have discovered valuable support by engaging in online groups, forums, and personal connections with fellow adults who are also on the autism spectrum.
Help them understand the benefits of vocational rehabilitation.
Help them consider exploring the option of vocational rehabilitation (VR) services, which involve working with a VR counsellor. These professionals can evaluate your unique strengths and requirements regarding employment and offer assistance in finding suitable job opportunities. It’s important to note that the government provides VR services and may differ in availability and specifics depending on your state.
Currently, there is a lack of specific diagnostic criteria for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, clinicians typically diagnose adults with ASD by conducting in-person observations and interactions. They also take into account the individual’s reported symptoms. Undergoing a diagnosis can provide you with a fresh perspective on your childhood and help those around you better comprehend and empathise with your distinct traits. By gaining a deeper understanding of your own situation, you can discover innovative approaches to leverage your strengths and unique qualities. Collaborating with your clinician and loved ones to explore suitable support options tailored to your needs is also possible.