What Does Autism Spectrum Disorder Look Like in Adults?
Awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults has grown dramatically in recent years, which reflects both an increase in diagnoses and in the public’s understanding that, even late in life, a diagnosis can offer major benefits and relief. Learn more about the symptoms of autism in adults here.
Medically reviewed by ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel
Could You Have Symptoms of Autism in Adults?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) occurs in all age, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Autism is generally characterized by social and communication difficulties and by repetitive behaviors. Often, severe forms of ASD are often diagnosed in the first two years of a child’s life, but high-functioning individuals may not be diagnosed until much later in life.
Symptoms of autism occur in three main areas:
- Social interactions
- Verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive or ritualistic behaviors
Adults with autism who are high functioning may have only mild challenges, which are sometimes mistaken for symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); others may have more severe symptoms, like impaired spoken language. No two people with ASD will have the same symptoms manifested in the same way. Regardless of manifestation or severity, ASD symptoms commonly interfere with everyday life. And as our understanding of those challenges improves, more people than ever are being diagnosed with ASD.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is typically a life-long condition, though early diagnosis and treatment can make a tremendous difference. Common symptoms of autism in adults include:
- Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling
- Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues
- Difficulty regulating emotion
- Trouble keeping up a conversation
- Inflection that does not reflect feelings
- Difficulty maintaining the natural give-and-take of a conversation; prone to monologues on a favorite subject
- Tendency to engage in repetitive or routine behaviors
- Only participates in a restricted range of activities
- Strict consistency to daily routines; outbursts when changes occur
- Deep knowledge of one particular topic, such as a certain branch of science or industry
Adults can also exhibit repetitive behaviors and have specific, extreme interest in a particular topic like a sports teams or area of history. These interests may border on obsessions.
Autism Symptoms in Adults at Home
Other peoples’ feelings baffle you. You have a collection of figurines on your desk that must be in the same order at all times. These, and other common manifestations of ASD, may be apparent in adults at home:
- Your family members lovingly refer to you as the “eccentric professor” of the family, even though you don’t work in academia.
- You’ve always wanted a best friend, but never found one.
- You often invent your own words and expressions to describe things.
- Even when you’re in a quiet place, like the library, you find yourself making involuntary noises like clearing your throat over and over.
- You follow the same schedule every day of the week, and don’t like unexpected events.
- Expressions like, “Curiosity killed the cat” or “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch” are confusing to you.
- You are always bumping into things and tripping over your own feet.
- In your leisure time, you prefer to play individual games and sports, like golf, where everyone works for themselves instead of working toward a common goal on a team.
Autism Symptoms in Adults at Work
Symptoms of ASD vary greatly from person to person based on the severity of the condition. These or similar manifestations of ASD may be apparent at work:
- When you’re having a conversation with your boss, you prefer to look at the wall, her shoes, or anywhere but directly into her eyes.
- Your co-workers say that you speak like a robot.
- Each item on your desk has a special place, and you don’t like when the cleaning company rearranges it to dust.
- You are really good at math, or software coding, but struggle to succeed in other areas.
- You talk to your co-workers the same way you talk with your family and friends.
- During meetings, you find yourself making involuntary noises, like clearing your throat over and over.
- When talking with your boss, you have difficulty telling if he is happy with your performance or mad at you.
In addition, individuals with ASD may exhibit extraordinary talents in visual skills, music, math, and art. And roughly 40 percent of individuals with ASD have average or above-average intelligence.
If you experience these or similar symptoms of ASD, consult a doctor or mental-health professional for a formal assessment and learn more about treatment options for autism symptoms in adults.
Updated on June 27, 2019