Are you often confused in social situations? Passionately interested in a narrow topic? Unable to make and maintain eye contact? Then you, like many talented and brilliant adults, may have autism.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis can help reflect on why certain things such as communication have always been difficult for you. You’ve always felt different, and you wonder why.
Severe forms of autism are often diagnosed at a young developmental age, but minor types often remain undiagnosed until much later in life. People who discover that they have autism only in adulthood may be having a high-functioning form of autism, which is characterized by mild symptoms that may interfere with everyday life.
Late-diagnosis of high-functioning autism is partly because these individuals pass their childhood developmental milestones with flying colors, and only show incapacity when they reach the age when they are expected to navigate complex social relationships or sensory challenges. That’s when they appear to behave differently.
Some people who are diagnosed with autism during adulthood suffer from a particular subtype of autism (previously) classified as Asperger’s syndrome. People with Asperger’s syndrome are typically higher functioning than others on the autism spectrum, which means that they may have an above-average intellectual ability.
Signs of Autism in Adults
Symptoms of autism typically begin to appear early in life.
Autism is known as a “spectrum” because no two people with the disorder will have the symptoms in the same magnitude. It is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. Nevertheless, the symptoms can include:
- Social interactions
- Different perception of the environment and the people around them
- Difficulty controlling emotion
- Unable to participate in a conversation
- Lack of empathy
- Prone to monologues on a specific subject
- Unable to form or maintain close friendships
- Social isolation
- Difficult processing emotional faces (5)
- Verbal and non-verbal communication
- Invent your own descriptive words
- Exceptional verbal skills
- In some instances, sophisticated language may reflect bits of dialogue heard in daily conversations around them (mitigated echolalia)
- The depth of meaning for specific nuances may be restricted, and the breadth of vocabulary may not be as expanse as utterances ay suggest
- Difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues – you don’t know what others are thinking or feeling
- Seldom make eye contact when speaking to someone
- Speak in a scripted, formal, or monotonous robotic manner
- Repetitive behavior
- Tend to engage in repetitive and rigid behavioral patterns
- Obsession with a particular topic
- Only participates in certain types of activities
- Make repetitive, involuntary noises, such as clearing your throat
- Autistic adults experience sensory over-responsivity to daily sensory stimuli to a high degree (7)
- Follow the same schedule and don’t like unexpected events
- Don’t want your things moved or rearranged
- Dyspraxia is more common in adults with ASD, contributing to their coordination difficulties (3)
Living with Autism
Adults diagnosed with autism later in life often view the diagnosis as a relief. Knowing why certain aspects of their lives are the way that they are often proven to be a weight lifted off their shoulders. Receiving a diagnosis may give you a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate differently to the world. And it could help you learn to cope better while honing in your strengths. It can also help those around you empathize and understand your unique characteristics.
High-functioning autistic adults may face a social disadvantage compared to those with severe autism. High-functioning autism means that they may struggle to integrate into normal society while trying to cope with severe anxiety, sensory impairment, and social faux pas. The degree of community inclusion and living skills is restricted for adults with autism (5).
Most people correlate success with climbing the career ladder in the workplace. An adult with high-functioning autism may be able to thrive in their workplace and mask the fact that they are struggling with autism.
Sometimes, individuals with autism, particularly females, ‘camouflage’ their social communication difficulties, which may require considerable cognitive effort and lead to increased stress and anxiety(2).
Some common diagnoses that may accompany autism include:
- Anxiety and Stress (due to their proneness to rumination) (1).
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Tourette’s syndrome
These coexisting diagnoses can cause other symptoms that are atypical of autism.
How is autism in adults treated?
Adults with autism aren’t generally given the same treatment as children. For adults, treatment may include cognitive, behavioral, and verbal therapy. Most people need to seek specific therapies based on the challenges that they are experiencing. There are also sensory or communication tools that you should invest in.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Improves communication skills
- Aids in developing lasting relationships
- Alleviates the challenges and anxiety associated with the fear of not being able to relate to others
- Find solutions for workplace issues to sustain full-time jobs
- Research shows that a virtual reality platform is a promising tool for improving social skills, cognition, and functioning in autism (4)
Social skills class and speech therapy
- Research finds social connections continue to increase and autism symptoms decrease months after young adults complete a social skills program (1). The social skill classes focused on conversational skills, appropriate use of humor, and electronic communication, identifying sources of friends, entering and exiting conservations, organizing successful get-togethers, dating etiquette, and handling peer conflict and peer rejection.
- Speech-language therapy is used to develop, recover, or maintain speech and language and social communication skills.
Assistive technology for communication
- Everyone deserves access to communication. Alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) gives autistic people the ability to communicate effectively by aiding or replacing speech with other kinds of communication such as pictures. AAC can be a temporary or a permanent feature in a person’s life.
- Some high-tech AAC solutions might include dedicated speech devices (g., Dynavox) and multi-purpose devices such as a laptop computer that has an AAC program installed (e.g., Assistiveware’s products).
Sensory tools for autistic adults
- Compression clothing sometimes provides pressure that can be calming.
- Noise-canceling headphones and white noise machines help to overcome your low threshold for sensory stimuli.
- Weighted blankets can improve sleep by providing deep touch pressure, therefore promoting the release of serotonin into your body. Serotonin calms you down and stimulates a sleep hormone known as melatonin. The added weight is also a great sensory input.
- Pamper yourself with a bean bag chair! The pressure of bean bag chairs calms the nervous system. Simply lying or sitting on a bean bag chair is often enough to alleviate hyperactivity.
- A rocking chair can also be quite calming. You’re never too old for it!
- Prescription drugs may be used to treat symptoms such as anxiety or hyperactivity. These medicines include antipsychotics, stimulants, and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Autistic You might also be a genius!
Many people with autism are capable, intelligent, and capable of holding down a responsible job.
Some gifts of autistic adults include:
- A high IQ
- The ability to focus on something intensely
- An exceptional rote memory
- A unique sense of humor
Above 40 percent of individuals with autism have above-average intelligence. Some may exhibit extraordinary talents in visual skills, music, math, and art.
Examples of famous people with high-functioning autism:
Charles Darwin – naturalist, biologist, geologist
Albert Einstein – scientist, mathematician
Michaelangelo – sculptor, painter
Emily Dickinson – poet
Bill Gates – Co-founder of Microsoft.
The Bottom Line
Adults with autism have restricted community inclusion and living skills (1). Unlike children, adults are expected to put away emotional challenges and act like a grown-up. Hence, adults with autism often face social stigma and discrimination. Seek treatment to have a better quality of life.