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How does autism manifest in adults?

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    Autism usually develops before the age of 3 years. However, the signs may be too subtle to notice for a long time which may result in a late diagnosis. Many adults find that they wonder if they could be autistic when reading about autism in children, if they are concerned that their child may be autistic. Due to growing awareness of autism, it's becoming more common for adults to be diagnosed - but how does this differ to when you're a child?

    What are the main signs of autism in adults?

    Someone with autism may display any or all of these signs.

    • having trouble understanding other people's emotions or thoughts
    • being worried or anxious about social situations
    • being solitary or finding it difficult to befriend people
    • coming across as abrupt or rude in conversation (without intending to)
    • having difficulty articulating your feelings
    • interpreting expressions literally, like idioms or sarcasm
    • sticking to the same routine each day

    Adults with autism can also show many strengths because of these traits or behaviours, relating to areas such as organisation. These are often stereotyped as 'Rain Man' or savant behaviours, but this is an exceptionally rare characterisation popularised in the media - people with autism can't be neatly categorised into being exceptional at specific activities.

    'Our Family and Autism'

    The documentary 'Our Family and Autism' with Paddy and Christine McGuinness has shone a much-needed light on adults with autism, as Christine is diagnosed while exploring the journey for parents with autistic children. In the documentary, Paddy and Christine fill out a questionnaire designed to highlight neurodivergent traits, known as the AQ Test. She went for an assessment after her answers revealed a higher than typical number of traits associated with autism. This highlighted a common theme seen in adults with autism, and particularly women - known as 'masking'. Masking is where an individual with autism can hide or suppress certain behaviours in an effort to fit in, as a coping mechanism in social situations. This is in spite of them feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or overstimulated.

    Christine said in the documentary that she felt like everything now made sense, and the diagnosis answered many questions that she'd had since she was a child struggling to fit in with her peers. It explained behaviours that seemed like quirks at the time, like her preference for plain decorating as opposed to heavy patterns that she found overstimulating, and for specific types of clothing that felt a certain way when she wore them. This extended to the types of food she eats, where she avoids certain textures and sensations. Although there are difference trials to navigate in daily life that neurotypical people may not think about, Christine also found that her autism helps her to be more understanding with her two children, who are also autistic.

    Is the test different for adults?

    No, the ADOS framework is used for both adult and child diagnoses. However, different diagnostic criteria will be used for adults that better fit the behaviours that adults may be exhibiting. This is more of a conversation about family history, and difficulties that you may be experiencing in daily life.

    Autism misdiagnosis

    Some adults may have been misdiagnosed with another disorder that covered the potential of autism. This can often result in finding out later in life they have autism. Some symptoms of autism which can often be attributed to other conditions are:

    • Anxiety
    • Repetitive behaviour
    • Hypersensitivity
    • Difficulty with social interactions and self-expression
    • Difficulty with managing emotions

    We offer a free Virtual Consultation where one of our therapists can give advice and answer any questions you may have prior to an initial assessment if you are unsure if you are eligible for an autism assessment.

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