If you are an adult, you can live with autism symptoms for years without knowing you have it because they can sometimes be very mild and difficult to be recognized. They can differentiate from those of children, so in this article, we will discuss the symptoms of autism in adulthood, how it is diagnosed in adulthood and when the first signs of autism appear.
What Are The 3 Main Characteristics Of Autism In Adults?
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability and one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders that can be caused by many factors, but one of the causes that are mostly known is the genetic one. (1)
The 3 main characteristics of autism in adults are:
- Restricted interests
- Repetitive and restrictive behavior
- Problems with social communication
However, there are some other characteristics that can be quite common in people with ASD (autism spectrum disorders) and include:
- They tend to take things literally, which can cause difficulties in communication
- They have problems with making new friends and keeping them
- They feel often confused or misunderstood because they do not understand social rules or body language
- Have unusual emotional expressions and reactions
- They have a great variety of abilities
- Their speaking is robotic, monotonous and they use a flat voice that doesn’t reflect their emotions and feelings
- They always speak just about one or two topics of interests
- They have superior ability in just one subject, for example, mathematics or some other discipline
- They feel discomfort during eye contact
These people can be supported to make new strategies and develop skills through social skills support and licensed psychologists with counseling and psychological therapy to better understand different expectations of social situations.
How Is Autism Diagnosed In Adults?
Diagnosis of autism in adults can be a challenging experience because people who haven’t been diagnosed as children may successfully mask their symptoms, or they have milder symptoms, so sometimes they never get a diagnosis.
There are no diagnostic criteria that can help in diagnosis in adults. So experts like psychologists and psychiatrists usually use a series of observations and direct interactions with people to help them with the diagnosis.
They will usually ask you some questions about your usual behavioral patterns, emotions, social interactions, interests you have, etc. They will probably ask you about your childhood behavior, relying on your memory or they will also ask members of your family some questions to gain their perspectives about your lifelong patterns. The health specialists may also look into your medical report to see whether you have some other medical issues because autistic people may also suffer from depression or anxiety.
However, most ASD diagnosis is made during childhood, and during that time period, the symptoms are most evident and severe. Most autism centers are child-focused, so it is difficult to find a healthcare professional who will diagnose adults, so you may ask for help from a child psychiatrist.
Clinicians have developed various diagnostic autism tests to help in the diagnosis of ASD in adults, such as:
1. Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R): this test contains 93 questions that focus mainly on the 3 main characteristics of autism such as social interaction, repetitive behavior, and language and communication for an autism assessment in adults.
2. Developmental, Dimensional, and Diagnostic Interview-Adult Version (3Di-Adult): This test looks for any not typical and obsessive behaviors such as obsession with certain objects and focuses mainly on problems with social communication.
3. Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) Module 4: This test is the gold standard for people of all ages.
Self – Administrated Tests For Autism In Adults Are Available Online
Self – administrated tests for autism in adults are available online and they are a very good starting point if you want self-assessment. (2) (3) (4)
However, they are not diagnostic tools and an autism diagnosis can only be made through clinical evaluation, and these tests are for personal use only.
What Are The Signs Of High Functioning Autism (Mild Autism) In Adults?
High functioning autism is not a real medical diagnosis, and people who have this type of autism can write, read, handle basic skills and live independent lives.
Mild autism falls into a lower range of the autism spectrum, and it means that symptoms are not as severe and significant enough to seek professional help.
In this case, a medical term and doctors do not usually make a diagnosis. This term can be used for a person who has developed language and other life-needed skills, but it can still be diagnosed with autism.
There are cases when people have advanced academic abilities but have problems with sensory issues, social skills, or organization.
Another name for mild autism is high-functioning autism (HFA), or “being on the lower end of the spectrum”.
Mild Autism Symptoms In Adults
Every person who is diagnosed with autism differs, and it is unique, and even people who have mild symptoms have problems with their everyday activities.
It is estimated that around 5 million adult Americans have this developmental disability that can affect many social skills. (5)
Nowadays, people are more familiar with the symptoms of high functioning autism, so unusual behaviors and social awkwardness are no longer seen as eccentricity, and these people get the development support they need to live their lives productively and fully.
They have hard times in life and sometimes have even suicidal ideation, so getting a diagnosis ensures they will get the support they are entitled to. To make this easier, try looking at these signs more carefully for you or maybe for a family member or a friend if you want to make an autism diagnosis. Symptoms of mild autism can be as follows:
1. They develop interests in particular topics
When you live with ASD, it is very likely that you will develop an intense interest in some specific subjects like watching the same movie genre, listening same songs or the same music genre are just some examples of autistic fixations. They can be sometimes helpful and people who are focused on specific subjects usually have successful careers, but they can negatively impact your relationship with others and your daily tasks.
2. Dislike of Change
People with ASD hate changing their daily routines and every change may cause anger, frustration, and great discomfort for them. They also have a strict daily routine and a household chores schedule, and they tend to follow it every day.
They probably would always drive the same road when going to work and eat the same dishes and if they do not stick to it, it will make their lives difficult to cope with.
3. They cannot imagine what other people feel or think
People with ASD lack social imagination and often cannot understand the behavior or intentions of people they interact with. They have set boundaries and cannot imagine doing anything outside of them, and can even, in some cases, have trouble picking up on social cues and following social rules, and interpreting others’ feelings, thoughts, or behaviors. This can be improved with various behavioral techniques such as role-playing, experimental learning, or interpretive play.
4. Problems with understating the body language
People with ASD tend to live in a black and white world and have hard times understanding concepts that are not black and white. They have difficulties in managing certain social situations, feelings, and emotions. Moreover, they may be considered rude in some situations, even though they act without bad intentions, they usually avoid eye contact and social interaction with people, disregard other’s people space, and do not ask others for advice or comfort.
They can also have difficulties understanding other’s people emotions, feelings, facial expressions, and body language.
5. They focus on themselves
They have an unusual focus on themselves and spend most of their time talking just about themselves, and usually do not let others share their thoughts or opinions, which makes any conversation difficult. They will usually pour themselves or make a drink without asking anyone else in their company if they like it or not and will have a hard time socializing with others and creating deep relationships.
6. They have problems with processing physical sensations
People with ASD have sensory difficulties, and all noisy places can lead to emotional distress. They usually cannot tolerate some noises, smells or feelings, but all these symptoms may improve in time if you work with health professionals.
7. They have self–stimulating behavior
This behavior is called stimming and is characterized by making repetitive movements or sounds such as tapping the pencil or twirling the hair. For many people, they are the most obvious symptom of autism and, according to many experts, it is a tool for emotional self–regulation.
What Are Subtle Signs Of Autism In Adults?
Some ASD symptoms may be very common and may lead to incorrect diagnosis or failure to be referred as a diagnosis. But, although the symptoms of ASD are missed in many people, they have been present since their early childhood. In addition, many people who live with ASD are highly intelligent, and their IQ tests are impressive. Still, when it comes to social interactions, they have problems.
Also, very often, people learn how to hide and mask their symptoms because they can be mild and not very noticeable such as the following:
1. Anxiety and depression
Many people feel depressed and anxious as they struggle to cope with things in their everyday lives, but in reality, they may suffer from ASD. If you are diagnosed with it, maybe people will try to understand you more easily, and perhaps you will start seeing yourself with different eyes.
2. Disliking uncomfortable clothes
You will probably have sensory issues that are related to clothes that may cause you discomfort and you are sensitive to some fabrics and textures, and you always choose comfort over style.
3. Lack of eye contact
Making eye contact with someone is very difficult for you, and it doesn’t come naturally as with all other parts of social interaction.
4. You are obsessed with a celebrity or a certain object
You have very intense interests in some things, and you have become obsessed with a certain celebrity or band that actually knows everything about them. This symptom is not very noticeable as many people are obsessed with things and people nowadays.
What Is Borderline Autism In Adults?
Borderline Autism is known as High Functioning autism and it is a less severe form of Autism and in some cases is not even diagnosed as such. The symptoms can also be transient in nature and can disappear with time, and re-appear again.
There is no diagnostic classification under DSM 5 diagnostic criteria, so there are no specific symptoms for it. (6)
However, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are similar, sometimes overlap, and can be easily mistaken, one for another because they both share: (7)
- Social challenges ( they both have problems with interpersonal relationships)
- Emotional challenges ( both have problems reading and expressing emotions and feel uncomfortable when expressing their feelings)
- Comorbidities ( they have anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, OCD, and ADHD)
When Can Autism Be Diagnosed And What Are The First Signs?
Autism is usually diagnosed on behavior and development milestones, so pediatricians generally start screening for it when the child is around one year old until they get 3 years old.
There are few diagnostic stages, and some children, when very young, have mild symptoms and may not show the early signs of ASD, so they begin to show the first signs when they are older.
In general, the first symptoms when the autism can be detected appear when the child is 6 months old or as late as 4 years old. Usually, most children are diagnosed when they are 2 years old and when the symptoms start to stabilize.
The first signs of autism that appear in small children and toddlers ( 12 to 24 months old) are:
- Lack of physical activity
- Not making any eye contact
- Not recognizing familiar faces
- Strange body or hand motions
- Babbling with strange voices
- Sensitivity to sounds, colors or textures
- Playing with one toy repetitively
- No interest in playing with parents or other children and playing just with their toys
- Delay in their language skills
If you are concerned about your child’s development, you can speak to your pediatrician to start screening for any signs or symptoms of autism. But usually, a team of medical, vision, educational and psychological professionals is the one who diagnoses autism.