Key Takeaways

  • While autism is often associated with children, many people don’t receive a diagnosis until adulthood.
  • Autistic adults may exhibit some common symptoms related to communication, social interaction, sensory concerns, and more.
  • Learning about the different ways that autism can show up in adults can help you get the support you need to thrive.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly referred to as autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition. Often, people think of autism as something that is diagnosed in children. While that’s often the case, you can still be diagnosed with autism as an adult. Learning about the common signs of autism in adults can foster self-acceptance and empower you to seek support when you need it.

What is autism?

As its official title suggests, autism is a condition that exists on a spectrum. This means that different presentations of autism require different levels of support. Autism shapes how people see themselves and interact with the world. 

Just like everyone else, autistic people have individual strengths and weaknesses. But there are some common characteristics that many people with autism share, including:

  • Social and communication differences
  • A strong preference for repeated routines
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Intense interests in specific hobbies or activities
  • Heightened anxiety
  • A tendency to react to stress by shutting down

Some people with autism experience these traits on an extreme level, while some don’t experience them at all. Others fall somewhere in between, and this can change over time. But with the right level of support, autistic adults can thrive at work, school, and in relationships.

What are the signs and symptoms of autism in adults?

If you’re an adult who suspects you may be autistic, learning about some common symptoms can help you know when to ask for help. 

Keep in mind that everyone with autism experiences the condition in their own unique way. But there are some signs that may indicate the presence of autism in adults. You may be autistic if:

  • You have a hard time understanding how others think and feel.
  • You become uncomfortable or anxious in new social situations.
  • You prefer to spend time alone, and making friends can be difficult.
  • You’ve been described as rude or cold, even when that wasn’t your intention.
  • You find it difficult to express your emotions.
  • You often misunderstand sarcastic comments and take them literally, causing confusion.
  • You prefer to stick to the same daily routine, and you feel stressed when you have to change your routine.
  • You misunderstand social cues.
  • You’re uncomfortable with eye contact, so you tend to avoid it. Alternatively, you may overthink your eye contact or hold eye contact for longer than other people.
  • You prefer not to be touched physically or have people enter your personal space.
  • You often notice details that other people overlook.
  • You have a set of favorite activities, and you prefer to spend time on those over doing other things.
  • You like to make a detailed plan before doing new things.

Keep in mind that research shows that autism can present differently in women and people assigned female at birth. For example, if you’re a woman with autism, you may:

  • have learned to “mask,” meaning to act in certain ways to fit in socially by copying other people
  • do your best to fly under the radar and suppress your feelings
  • have a few good friends or acquaintances you spend time with
  • be less likely to do the repetitive behaviors often associated with autism

These traits often make it harder to detect autism in adult women. But this doesn’t mean that autism doesn’t affect women or that they don’t need and deserve support. 

What causes autism?

We don’t fully understand the cause of autism. However, researchers have identified some factors that may increase the likelihood that someone will develop the condition.

  • If someone in your immediate family, like a parent or sibling, has autism, you might be more likely to develop it. Also, relatives of people with autism may have minor social or communication differences without necessarily meeting the full diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. 
  • People with autism may be born with abnormalities in their brain’s structure and chemical function.
  • Certain environmental considerations,* like prenatal maternal health, may impact development. 

*Note that other common theories that point to things like vaccines as the cause of autism are not accurate.   

How to manage autism in adults

Autism is a condition that often requires lifelong support. While there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, it can be managed in both children and adults. 

Adults who think they may have autism may choose to seek an evaluation from a licensed mental health professional. This can help you better understand yourself and your unique strengths and challenges. 

Remember that autism is not a deficit. It’s a form of neurodiversity that just means your brain works a little differently. If you have autism, you may benefit from any of the following treatment methods.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that can help you learn to respond to stress in different ways. It can also help alleviate anxiety, which many autistic people experience. 
  • Some autistic people need support with something called “interoception.” This term refers to a person’s ability to notice what’s happening in their body and connect it with emotions. Interoception therapy can help you learn to respond to your body’s physical cues and regulate your emotions.
  • Applied behavioral analysis (ABA), when used with positive reinforcement, can help autistic people understand and change unwanted behaviors.

In addition to these types of therapy, your therapist can also recommend a variety of other supports and lifestyle changes to help you manage your condition. This might include things like art therapy, prioritizing your physical well-being, joining a support group, or finding the routines and stress management strategies that work for you. 

In some cases, your provider may prescribe medication to treat co-occurring mental health conditions, like depression or ADHD

Find care with Rula

If you think you might have autism, getting an accurate diagnosis from a mental health professional can help you get the support you need to thrive. 

At Rula, we partner with many therapists and psychiatric providers who specialize in treating autism spectrum disorder. And thanks to our easy-to-use therapist-matching program, you can find a provider who takes your insurance in just a few clicks. Whether you need therapy or medication management (or both), we’re here to ensure that you get streamlined access to the specialized care you deserve.

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