Open Accessibility Menu

Autism in Adults

Autism in Adults

Many people associate autism spectrum disorder (ASD) primarily with children, so much so that adult-focused data wasn’t even released by the CDC until 2020. A lot of that timing coincides with the fact that young kids diagnosed around 2000 are now adults. While the most current data indicates that 2.2% of U.S. adults have ASD, there’s an untold number who may think they’re autistic but have never been diagnosed. Whether or not to seek out a diagnosis is a personal choice – some may want the confirmation while others are fine without anything official.

As awareness continues to become more mainstream, you’ve likely heard of ASD’s main signs and symptoms, like social and communication challenges, repetitive behaviors and sensory issues. You may experience some of these symptoms, though they can look a bit different in adults. Often, adults may not realize that some of the feelings they’ve coped with for years can be attributed to undiagnosed ASD.

Communication differences can impact social interaction and affect the ability to form healthy friendships and relationships, whether at work or in your personal life. Here are some examples of what that may look like:

  • Having a hard time understanding or interpreting context behind verbal (tone, sarcasm) and nonverbal communications (facial expressions, other body language)
  • Taking things too literally (i.e. not getting a metaphor and then misunderstanding the conversation)
  • Responding with long monologues or very short answers, making it hard to maintain conversation and stay on topic
  • Coming across as rude or odd in interactions, perhaps with not much emotion or with stiff or unnatural language
  • Isolating yourself socially

Repetitive or restrictive behaviors include not only physical movements but the desire to stick to what’s familiar, and may present in different ways:

  • Self-stimulating behavior (often called “stimming), ranging anywhere from foot tapping to rocking to repeatedly touching fingers together
  • Preference for the same routine, and possible outbursts or stress when that doesn’t happen
  • Strong, special interests – sometimes what seems like obsessions – which can limit other activities outside of this and make it hard to try new things

Being either overstimulated (hypersensory) or understimluated (hyposensory) is a common symptom in people with ASD. The repetitive and/or restrictive behaviors people with ASD experience are often responses to overstimulation or sensory processing issues. This could look like:

  • Feeling like lights are too bright or having difficulty getting to sleep because of sensitivity to light (hypersensory)
  • Poor depth perception or objects appearing dark or losing some of their features (hyposensory)
  • Sounds are too loud or being distracted by background noise and other conversations, making it hard to concentrate (hypersensory)
  • Seeks out noisy places or banging doors and objects (hyposensory)
  • Lacks a sense of smell (hyposensory) or strong aversion to certain smells that feel overpowering (hypersensory)
  • Likes very spicy foods or eats non-edible items (hyposensory) or has very sensitive taste buds and response to food textures, with a possible restrictive diet as a result (hypersensory)
  • Holds others tightly, enjoys weighted blankets, or chews on things (hyposensory)
  • Doesn’t like to be touched by others, or sensitive to certain clothing types/textures (hypersensory)

While these are some of the main ways to recognized ASD in adults, it’s not an exhaustive list, and it’s also important to remember that relating to these symptoms does not confirm any diagnosis. If you think you’re autistic, you’ve probably fine-tuned the way you navigate life and may even see a diagnosis as nothing more than a label. There are a few things to consider if you did pursue a diagnosis:

  • You may have access to programs and services related to ASD
  • You may feel more comfortable joining online or local support groups with others who have been diagnosed
  • It may help the others in your life understand what you experience, and it may help you make better sense of your life experiences
  • It may help in other diagnoses you have had. ASD is frequently accompanied by a co-occurring condition, like ADHD, anxiety and depression. For those people, discussing an autism diagnosis could provide better understanding of other health issues.