THERE are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK – that’s around 1 in every 100 people.
Here is a guide to spotting the signs and symptoms of this hidden disability in adults.
What is autism and what is the autism spectrum?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
No two people with autism spectrum disorder have the exact same set of symptoms, and it is referred to as a spectrum because of the variety of its signs and symptoms, and their differences in severity.
Some people with ASD experience symptoms that make daily life difficult.
Others who are considered “high-functioning” may simply feel like something is “different” about them.
They might have felt that way since childhood but haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why.
Similarly, they may not notice that they feel or behave differently, but others around them may notice that they behave or act differently.
While autism is most often diagnosed in toddlers, it’s possible for adults with autism spectrum disorder to go undiagnosed.
What are the signs of high-functioning autism in adults?
Prominent symptoms of ASD are usually diagnosed in young children around toddler age.
However, if you’re an adult who hasn’t been diagnosed with autism, but believe you may have ASD, you may have high-functioning autism.
Following are some signs of autism in adults:
- Communication challenges
- You have trouble reading social cues.
- Participating in conversation is difficult.
- You have trouble relating to others’ thoughts or feelings.
- You’re unable to read body language and facial expressions well. (You might not be able to tell whether someone is pleased or unhappy with you.)
- You use flat, monotone, or robotic speaking patterns that don’t communicate what you’re feeling.
- You inventing your own descriptive words and phrases.
- Understanding figures of speech and turns of phrase (like “The early bird catches the worm” or “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”) is difficult.
- You don’t like to look at someone’s eyes when talking to them.
- You talk in the same patterns and tone whether you’re at home, with friends, or at work.
- You talk a lot about one or two favorite topics.
- Building and maintaining close friendships is difficult.
Emotional and behavioural difficulties
- You have trouble regulating your emotions and your responses to them.
- Changes in routines and expectations cause outbursts or meltdowns.
- When something unexpected happens, you respond with an emotional meltdown.
- You get upset when your things are moved or rearranged.
- You have rigid routines, schedules, and daily patterns that must be maintained no matter what.
- You have repetitive behaviours and rituals.
- You make noises in places where quiet is expected.
- You care deeply and are knowledgeable about a few specific areas of interest (like a historical period, book series, film, industry, hobby, or field of study).
- You are very smart in one or two challenging academic subject areas, but have great difficulty doing well in others.
- You experience hypersensitivity or impaired sensitivity to sensory input (like pain, sound, touch, or smell).
- You feel like you’re clumsy and have difficulty with coordination.
- You prefer to work and play for yourself, rather than with others.
- Others perceive you as eccentric or an academic.
How is autism in adults diagnosed?
There are currently no standard diagnostic criteria for adults with suspected ASD, but they are in development.
In the meantime, clinicians primarily diagnose adults with ASD through a series of in-person observations and interactions.
They also take into consideration any symptoms the person reports experiencing.
If you’re interested in being evaluated for ASD, begin with your family doctor, who will evaluate you to be certain that there isn’t an underlying physical illness accounting for your behaviours.
Your doctor may then refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for in-depth assessment.
The clinician will want to talk with you about any issues you have regarding communication, emotions, behavioural patterns, range of interests, and more.
You’ll answer questions about your childhood, and your clinician might request to speak with your parents or other older family members to gain their perspectives about your lifelong behaviour patterns.
If the diagnostic criteria for children are being used for reference, your clinician may ask your parent questions from that list, relying on their memories of you as a child for further information.
If your clinician determines that you didn’t display symptoms of ASD in childhood, but instead began experiencing symptoms as a teen or adult, you may be evaluated for other possible mental health or affective disorders.