For whatever reason, whether you recently read an autism-related article that resonated with you in that certain traits sounded familiar or perhaps a friend or relative suggested that you may be exhibiting some adult autism symptoms, identifying autism symptoms in a previously undiagnosed adult is often fraught with difficulties in that many ASD adults develop great skills at masking and managing these symptoms. Doctors would frequently use a child’s checklist – indeed many but not always all of the symptoms are identical. Like, repetitive behaviour, obsession with daily routine, and difficulty with social interaction.
Gathering childhood and development history can also be challenging. In children, it is the parents who answer the questions during the diagnosis process, however, this is often simply not possible in an adult unless older relatives are willing and able.
So the road to an adult autism diagnosis is often likely to be a rocky one. Nevertheless, it is vital to learn various coping skills necessary to survive and stay on track in an NT (Neurotypical) world.
Repetitive behaviour often includes arm and/or hand-flapping, flicking, rocking back and forth, head-banging and complex body movements. More common in adults who have learned the art of “masking” their symptoms, is the repetitive fiddling with or use of some object, such as flicking a matchstick, twirling a rubber band, or other repetitive activities, invariably involving certain the senses (like continually feeling a particular texture). In the ASD world, this is commonly known as ‘stimming’ or self-stimulating behaviour.
The repetitive behaviour may vary from person to person, but the motivation is likely to be the same:
Attempts to attain various sensory inputs, like rocking, feeling materials, is believed to be a way of stimulating the balance system. Hand-flapping may be providing some needed visual stimulation.
Reducing sensory input by focusing on a particular sound may be a coping mechanism that reduces the impact of a distressing or noisy environment.
Often this is seen in social situations as a means of dealing with stress and anxiety.
Obsessions and routines are frequently a source of soothing or enjoyment for people with autism. A coping mechanism in an NT world. Sadly, they also frequently restrict involvement in other social activities and therefore may cause anxiety. This is not the same as OCD, which is an anxiety disorder.
Time spent with an obsession is often the only time in which the autistic person has a clear mind, many have reported. – it becomes a source of greatly sought-after relaxation.
Many varied obsessions are found in autistic people. Children and adults alike. Some of these may include history, wars, aircraft or science. People with autism frequently become attached to objects (or parts of objects), such as machines or model cars – sometimes even more bizarre objects like bottle tops, matchbooks, rocks or shoes. An interest in collecting is very common, whether it is travel DVDs, memorabilia, brochures on a specific topic or insects.
The intensity, endurance and duration of the autistic person’s interest in a particular topic, object or collection that makes it qualify as an obsession. They will usually study and research about a subject they are obsessed with and become intensely interested in it for an extended period.
A fixed routine, which is broken unexpectedly, can cause great anxiety and discomfort. On the other hand, sticking to the routine is a source of comfort and pleasure. Much like the obsession with objects.
Difficulty with Social Interaction
Frequently, autistic people experience difficulties with social interaction. Indeed, this is a key component of adult autism symptoms. They often find social situations difficult. While NT people seem to intuitively know how to interact with each other and “read” subtle things like body language, they often also struggle to establish rapport with autistic people and vice versa.
Social isolation may be due to a whole range of reasons. Some may be:
- NT people seem unwelcoming, or don’t want to interact with you.
- An autistic adult may prefer his/her own company
- Lack of confidence or skills prevents or inhibits the ASD adult from interacting socially
- Difficulty in maintaining contact as a result of a lack of understanding of the typical “small talk” and various other social conventions that make up the required set of social skills
- Trying to avoid repeating a bad experience like bullying
- Being required to live independently often causes anxiety
This description of a few of the main symptoms of autism in adults, is not meant to be complete but merely intended to describe some of the more obvious symptoms. There are various lists and on-line diagnostic tools that are far more comprehensive but our intention here is simply to throw some light on some of the behaviours often evident in ASD adults.
If you are not sure if you are on the spectrum, you may want to try taking this online test from Additude:
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