Autism is a lifelong neurological disorder that is often diagnosed in childhood when you know the initial signs of autism to look for.. But, what about the missed signs of autism in adults? Would we really know what to look for? How can we also help adults on the autism spectrum?
What are the symptoms and signs of autism in adults?
Autism, regardless of the age of the individual, varies widely. Some are what are called “severe” or “low-functioning” while others are considered “mild” or “high functioning.” Personally speaking, I’m not a fan of labels as they really don’t represent the individual properly. When my daughter was diagnosed, she was what you could call “low-functioning” or classic autistic.
So, to put it simply, the signs of autism in adults are the same as the signs of autism in toddlers — but they may look different.
- Social difficulties
- Repetitive behaviors
- Communication difficulties
- Executive Functioning difficulties
- Self Regulation difficulties
As you can see, some of these (if not all of these) signs of autism are found across the ages.
Strengths and Challenges for Adults on the Autism Spectrum
Dr. Stephen Shore is a self-advocate and assistant professor at Adelphi University. He also happens to be on the autism spectrum.
Some of the strengths he has identified include:
- attention to details
- highly skilled in one area
- Concentrated study in one area
- Tendency to be logical
- Visual processing
- Direct communication
So that doesn’t seem very different from the average adult, right? We all have our preferences and we all have our preferred methods for learning. Some of us may have more tact than others when it comes to communication skills. And really, let’s look at a college degree. Even with the encouragement to pursue a well-rounded education, you are pursuing a targeted area of study.
And, some of the challenges he has identified include:
- Grasping the big picture
- Unbalanced set of skills
- Difficulty with reading the emotions of others
- Difficulty understanding the unwritten rules of social interactions
- Difficulty summarizing important information in a conversation
- Sensory integration problems may provide difficulties with concentrating in a classroom
Certainly that is not limited to just adults with autism, is it? Many adults, on the autism spectrum or not, struggle with one of those things. Have you heard the saying, “emotional intelligence of a teaspoon?” For individuals who have a lot of book intelligence, you may struggle with emotional intelligence. Or, you may run at the other end of the gamut. Maybe you have high emotional intelligence, but you still have difficulty relating to others or with communicating with others.
So how do you know if you have autism?
Honestly, the only way to really know is to get the testing done. Many of the studies and research that I have come across are about adults who have grown up with autism. But what about individuals who are diagnosed later in life? Some may speculate that if you take a self-diagnostic test, you really aren’t doing yourself much of a favor. And I would agree.
You can make educated guesses and you can presume that you are on the autism spectrum, but really, the only way to know is if you get this evaluated and diagnosed.