Symptoms Of Autism In Older Adults
Some of the symptoms of autism in older adults are the same symptoms doctors screen for in young children, including poor social skills and repetitive, restrictive behaviors.
Indeed, many adults diagnosed with autism later in life note that their symptoms were evident from a young age, according to a 2019 study.
But children today are usually diagnosed when families or pediatricians observe missed developmental milestones or behavioral changes.
Adults who were not diagnosed as children often learn to mask their autism symptoms in order to appear neurotypical and to fit in better socially. This can be intensely stressful, and that stress can lead to other mental and physical health problems over time.
Older autistic adults are more likely than adults without autism to have some physical illnesses, particularly gastrointestinal disorders but they are less likely than adults diagnosed as children or young adults to have coexisting mental health conditions, aggressive behaviors, or diabetes.
Additionally, adults who go undiagnosed may remain socially isolated, lack higher education, and continue to live with relatives.
Other symptoms and signs of autism in adults may include:
- social isolation some
- adherence to particular routines and becoming upset if routines are disrupted
- obsessive interests
- poor executive functioning a lack of organizational and planning skills
Employment and relationship issues should be covered in diagnostic screening for autism in adults.
How Does Autism Affect Daily Life
Those who have been diagnosed with ASD may often find that the world wasnt really created with their needs, strengths or challenges in mind, as Kaye-OConnor puts it.
We live in a world that was largely created to center around neurotypical needs, she says. This means that those with autism can frequently come across a lack of acceptance and major sensory hurdles.
Sensory concerns can also be a big challenge for autistic people of any age, and it can be so incredibly helpful to have an understanding of our unique sensory profiles so we can then accommodate our sensory needs, Kaye-OConnor says. What are the sensory adaptations and accommodations we need to do well at school, at work, at home, and out in the community?
Since autism falls along a spectrum, so too does the impact on ones function, Dr. Lobel says, adding that depending on the severity, the capacity to live a fully independent life can be hindered.
Adults may need varying levels of support including, but not limited to, workplace accommodations and/or some assistance to manage finances, grocery shopping and laundry, Dr. Lobel says.
On the other hand, Kaye-OConnor notes that autism can bring about some really wonderful strengths and gifts.
At the end of the day, Dr. Lobel stresses that having a diagnosis of autism, even during adulthood, is not a foregone conclusion of gloom and doom.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to the American Psychological Association , autism spectrum disorder is “a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.”
Autism develops in early childhood, and it’s a spectrum disorder so symptoms and their severity vary among individualsmeaning autism can look different from person to person.
There appears to be a diagnostic gender biasconsequently, girls who meet criteria for autism are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a diagnosis.
Primary care physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists can evaluate symptoms and provide an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.
Many licensed mental health professionals specialize in therapy for adults with autism.
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Signs Of High Functioning Autism In Adults
Estimates show that at least 5 million adults in the United States live with an autism spectrum disorder. This developmental condition can affect a whole range of social skills.
However, not everyone living with autism receives a diagnosis. This can have a serious impact on your quality of life and mental health. Recognizing the signs of high functioning autism ensures that you get the help and support that you need.
So how might high functioning autism be affecting you? Read on to find out some common autism symptoms in adults and teenagers.
What Is Aspergers Syndrome
Aspergers and autism can mean many different things depending on the person. Generally speaking, the kind of mild autism that used to be called Aspergers affects communication and behavior. People with mild autism often have difficulty with social interactions because it is hard for them to communicate with other people.
Though people with Aspergers may find conversations to be hard or frustrating, they generally have average to high intelligence and strong verbal skills. They tend to engage in repetitive behavior and may have trouble understanding complicated feelings, gestures, or sarcasm.
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Autism And Understanding The Emotions Of Other People
An autistic person may find it hard to understand the emotions of other people. Emotions are interpreted by subtle messages sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language. These are often missed or misinterpreted by an autistic person. Because of this, autistic people might be mistakenly perceived as being rude or unfeeling. Autistic people may find it difficult to understand how others perceive their behaviour.
Having Very Focused Specific Interests
Struggling with ER doesnt mean you cant enjoy life, though. In fact, if you have autism, you often develop intense interests in particular topics.
For example, when you develop an interest in an area of high, you need to know everything about that topic. Or you may spend a lot of time listening to the same song or watching your favorite movie on repeat.
This can be fine in small doses, and it can also help you excel in areas that you really care about. However, it is important to keep this balance between having enough energy to focus on daily tasks.
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Behavioral Psychological And Educational Interventions
People with ASD may be referred to a health care provider who specializes in providing behavioral, psychological, educational, or skill-building interventions. These programs are typically highly structured and intensive, and they may involve caregivers, siblings, and other family members. These programs may help people with ASD:
- Learn social, communication, and language skills
- Reduce behaviors that interfere with daily functioning
- Increase or build upon strengths
- Learn life skills necessary for living independently
Is There A Test For Adult Autism
Instead, a doctor will review behaviors to make an ASD diagnosis. For adults, this usually means an in-person visit where the doctor asks questions and evaluates how you respond. They will also consider self-reported symptoms.
Many psychologists use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition , a diagnostic assessment when assessing adults.
Self-administered ASD questionnaires for adults are available online. These tests include the Autism Spectrum Quotient and derivatives like the AQ-10, AQ-20, and AQ-S, among others. These tests are not the same as a professional evaluation and should not be viewed as definitive.
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Social Communication And Social Interaction
Some of the characteristics that adults with an autism diagnosis commonly report, include:
- You may find it difficult to join conversations
- You may attempt to dominate conversations and bring the topic around to things that interest you
- You may find small talk difficult
- You may find two-way conversations and taking turns in talk difficult to do
- You may have difficulty in understanding and responding to non-literal language, such as metaphors and sarcasm
- You may speak in a flat, monotone voice, or use repetitive language
- You may use your own unique phrases and expressions
- You may make unexpected or unusual facial expressions or gestures when speaking with people
- You may have difficulty in understanding the thoughts or feelings of others
- You may find that other people have difficulty in understanding your thoughts or feelings or miss understanding what you are communicating
- It may be difficult for you to comprehend or respond to the facial expressions or body language of others, or to read social cues
- Other people tell you that they have difficulty understanding how you are thinking or feeling
- You may be very direct in your assessments of people and things
- Maintaining eye contact during interactions with others may be difficult, or
- You may have difficulty in establishing and maintaining close friendships.
Effects Of Aspergers Syndrome In Children And Teens
Most children and teens diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome who engage in therapy to improve social and motor skills are able to go on to live happy lives. Most adults who have Aspergers syndrome are able to hold steady, mainstream jobs but may require a bit of social support and encouragement from loved ones. Generally speaking, the earlier Aspergers syndrome is treated, the more positive the outcomes. Some of the effects of unaddressed or untreated Aspergers syndrome may include:
- Social isolation
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Challenges in finding and maintaining steady employment
- Troubled romantic relationships
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Hypersensitivity To Physical Stimuli
Many people on the autism spectrum experience hypersensitivity to physical stimuli like smell, touch, and hearing. When the stimuli is strong, the sensation can feel almost painful and the hypersensitivity can range in its severity. Some people on the spectrum may find it incredibly painful when others hug or touch them. Others may experience the same sensitivity as an annoyance.
Is Neurodivergent The Same As Autism
According to a 2015 article titled “The Myth of the Normal Brain: Embracing Neurodiversity” by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., neurodiversity is a term originally coined in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist, Judy Singer and New York journalist Harvey Blume, who wrote a 1998 article on neurodiversity in The Atlantic.
Armstrong, author of the 2011 book The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain, explains in his article that the word neurodiversity was initially created “to articulate the needs of people with autism who did not want to be defined by a disability label, but wished to be seen instead as neurologically different.”
Today autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and dyslexia are all considered neurodiverse conditions.
As Nicole Baumer, MD, and Julia Frueh, MD, point out in their 2021 article for Harvard Medical Schools Harvard Health Publishing, while the concept of neurodiversity began within the autism rights community, it has now grown beyond to also encompass other neurological conditions such as ADHD.
Today autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are all considered neurodiverse conditions.
Neurodiversity is the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways there is no one right way of thinking, learning, and behaving, according to Baumer and Frueh.
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Diagnosis In Young Children
Diagnosis in young children is often a two-stage process.
Stage 1: General Developmental Screening During Well-Child Checkups
Every child should receive well-child check-ups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive screening for developmental delays at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits, with specific autism screenings at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. A child may receive additional screening if they are at high risk for ASD or developmental problems. Children at high risk include those who have a family member with ASD, show some behaviors that are typical of ASD, have older parents, have certain genetic conditions, or who had a very low birth weight.
Considering caregivers experiences and concerns is an important part of the screening process for young children. The health care provider may ask questions about the childs behaviors and evaluate those answers in combination with information from ASD screening tools and clinical observations of the child. Read more about screening instruments on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
If a child shows developmental differences in behavior or functioning during this screening process, the health care provider may refer the child for additional evaluation.
Stage 2: Additional Diagnostic Evaluation
The diagnostic evaluation is likely to include:
Autism And Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD affects an estimated 30 to 60 percent of people with autism, versus6 to 7 percent of the general population.
ADHD involves a persistent pattern of inattention, difficulty remembering things, trouble with managing time, organizational tasks, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity that interferes with learn and daily life.
Symptoms of ADHD can overlap with those of autism. As a result, ADHD can be difficult to distinguish in someone on the spectrum.
If you suspect that you or your child has autism and ADHD, we recommend evaluation by a specialist familiar with both conditions. If the evaluation confirms ADHD, ask your healthcare provider to help you tailor a treatment plan appropriate to you or your childs needs.
Treatment may include behavioral strategies and in some cases medication for ADHD.
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Autism Signs And Characteristics: Checklist For Adults
If you think you may be on the autism spectrum or you know, love, or work with an adult who you feel might have autism, the following information will help you to better understand the common signs and characteristics relating to adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder .
Many adults may demonstrate the signs or characteristics of autism, but may not have been assessed or diagnosed for a number of reasons, these could include:
- The signs or characteristics are not obvious to those around them.
- People around them are not aware of the signs or characteristics of autism.
- The signs and characteristics do not have a significant impact on the individual, or limit their everyday functioning.
- The person has learnt strategies to support their challenges including masking or camouflaging signs.
- The financial and emotional cost of an assessment.
- Another diagnosis that could account for some of the signs and characteristics demonstrated
- The person self-identifies as autistic, but does not see the benefits of having a formal assessment
- The person does not want a formal diagnosis.
Many adults who demonstrate the behaviours of autism, and are not formally diagnosed, learn to cope with life perfectly well. They might develop meaningful relationships, have satisfying careers, or live an excellent quality of life that satisfies them.
How Many American Adults Live With Autism
In 2020 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated 5.5 million American adults are living with autism spectrum disorder .
Celebrities and prominent public figures who have opened up about being diagnosed with ASD include:
Actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah
New York state assembly representative Yuh-Line Niou
Scottish singer and Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle
Men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than women, according to Autism Speaks.
However, as the authors of a 2017 meta-analysis conclude, the true male-to-female ratio is not four-to-one, rather, it is closer to three-to-one.
The review’s authors call attention to gender bias in diagnosis from pediatricians and mental health professionals.
“There appears to be a diagnostic gender bias,” they write, “meaning that girls who meet criteria for ASD are at disproportionate risk of not receiving a clinical diagnosis.”
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Causes And Risk Factors
Researchers dont know the primary causes of ASD, but studies suggest that a persons genes can act together with aspects of their environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD. Some factors that are associated with an increased likelihood of developing ASD include:
- Having a sibling with ASD
- Having older parents
- Having certain genetic conditions
- Having a very low birth weight
What To Do If You Suspect You’re Living With Adult Autism
The symptoms of ASD listed above are not an exhaustive list, and an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis must be made by a licensed medical professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
For some adults, an ASD diagnosis can provide comfort, relief, and a clearer path forward. You may also want to speak with a therapist who specializes in autism spectrum disorder.
While autism spectrum disorder is a life-long condition, some therapeutic treatmentsincluding applied behavioral analysis, cognitive behavioral therapy , and certain medicationscan help manage symptoms.
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In The 2010s And Through Today
A new version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published in 2013. This is the reference that providers use today to diagnose autism.
Asperger’s syndrome is no longer a diagnosis in the DSM-5. Instead, the manual provides one diagnosis for all people with autism symptoms: autism spectrum disorder .
People with ASD have challenges with social communication, usually resist changes in their routine, and can be hypersensitive to noise, smell, touch, and other sensory experiences. These symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Today, people with mild symptoms as well as those with severe speech delays or sensory issues are all diagnosed with ASD.
The DSM-5 identifies the level of support an autistic person may need by using functioning levels. The levels range from 1 to 3 and are based on the severity of an autistic person’s symptoms, with 1 describing people who need the least support because their symptoms are mild.
However, few people outside of the medical community use the term “level 1 autism.” Often, the terms Asperger’s syndrome or mild autism are still used, though they are controversial within the autistic community.
Restricted Behavior And Play
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are often restricted, rigid, and even obsessive in their behaviors, activities, and interests. Symptoms may include:
- Repetitive body movements moving constantly.
- Obsessive attachment to unusual objects .
- Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest, sometimes involving numbers or symbols .
- A strong need for sameness, order, and routines . Gets upset by change in their routine or environment.
- Clumsiness, atypical posture, or odd ways of moving.
- Fascinated by spinning objects, moving pieces, or parts of toys .
- Hyper- or hypo-reactive to sensory input .
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