What Autism In Adults Looks Like

There was a time when children were being diagnosed with autism, but autism in adults was largely ignored. Yet, some individuals do have adult onset autism. Now, the disorder is well-known among professional counselors.

Autism is a growing problem in America and around the world. Over 1.5 million people have been diagnosed with the disorder. Because professionals have been diagnosing autism in adults as long as they have for children, the statistics for adult autism are less certain. Experts suggest that adult autism accounts for about 20% of those with autism.

Autism Can Sound Scary, But When It's Diagnosed You'll Have More Answers.
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Therapists who deal with autism in adults in their practice understand and recognize the symptoms. They can offer both emotional support and treatment. The first step for getting help is to be able to see the symptoms in yourself or your loved one.

Missing Social Cues

Social cues often amount to small movements of the face or body that most people understand immediately. Tone of voice is also a key factor that helps people understand the message. However, a person with autism tends not to understand these social signals. They simply don't have the inherent capacity to interpret nonverbal communications, so life can be very confusing for them. When someone rolls their eyes, or shrugs their shoulders, their meaning is usually clear.

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For people who don't have autism, the face and especially the eyes tell a more complete story than words alone ever can. But, for adults with autism, facial expressions mean little or nothing. A 2010 research study showed that most people could recognize complex emotions just from looking into someone's eyes. However, those with autism showed far less ability to make these assessments.

Theory of Mind

It is very hard to see a situation from someone else's perspective for those who have autism. They may have trouble empathizing with others, but the problem goes deeper than that. Since they cannot move outside their own perspective, they cannot predict how others will respond to them. They may feel that others are trying to be hurtful to them if they cannot see the intentions behind the other person's words or actions. This Theory of Mind can also be thought of as mind-blindness because autistic adults cannot see how others think or feel or what they intend.

Autism Can Sound Scary, But When It's Diagnosed You'll Have More Answers.
A Good Online Therapist Knows How to Treat Autism Best.

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Difficulty Regulating Emotions

A person with autism adult disorder may find it difficult to regulate their emotions. They may act spontaneously when a more careful response is required. Often the opposite is true as well. Being spontaneous when it is appropriate can make a person seem more likable and fun. It can also allow people to take advantage of spur-of-the-moment opportunities. For those adults who suffer from autism, this inability can result in severe loneliness and even depression.

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Conversation for Someone with Adult Onset Autism

Having a conversation when you have autism can be extremely challenging. After all, getting into the give and take of ordinary conversations requires flexibility, spontaneity and empathy. Talking with someone who has this disorder is often like listening to a monologue. The adults with autism tends to say what they want to say without giving others a chance to respond.

Inability to Recognize Figures of Speech

Metaphors can be difficult for anyone to interpret, especially if they are poorly constructed. However, most people can understand the gist of what the speaker means. A person with autism, on the other hand, not only has trouble understanding what the metaphor means but they may not even be aware that the words are meant as a figure of speech. This inability puts sarcasm and humor out of reach for them.

Physical Symptoms during Conversation

When speaking with someone who has autism, others might notice any of several clues to their disorder in the way they move, stand or express themselves. When and adult has ASD, they might avoid eye contact. They are not as aware of personal space as others, so they might stand too close to them. Adults with autism might not show interest in what others care about or think. Although they may not intend to be rude at all, others might interpret their behavior that way. This can make it very difficult to make friends.

Autism Can Sound Scary, But When It's Diagnosed You'll Have More Answers.
A Good Online Therapist Knows How to Treat Autism Best.

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Inappropriate Timing in Conversations

An adult autism sufferer might speak when others are in the middle of speaking. They may laugh when the situation requires that everyone stays quiet, such as at a funeral. They may not be aware of their inappropriate timing, or they may notice and yet be unable to regulate it.

Everything in Its Place

Adults with autism often have the most organized homes in their neighborhood. They find comfort in arranging their possessions and then keeping everything in that place. While their home may look beautiful this way, they find it distressing when someone comes along and moves something out of place. When you see someone with ASD acting out for what seems to you like minor disruption, you need to understand that the slight change is as upsetting to them as a major crisis might be for you.

The Challenge of Expressing Your Feelings

Just as people with ASD have trouble recognizing the feelings of others, they may also find it hard to express their own feelings. It may be easy for them to remember a chemical formula or an important date in history, but telling others how they feel can be a significant challenge. The first obstacle is being able to recognize their own feelings. Then, they must find a way to explain those feelings in words and gestures that make sense to other people.

Hand-Flapping and Other Repetitive Movements

One of the most distinctive symptoms is hand-flapping. Pay attention when you see someone do this or other repetitive movements. They likely have some degree of autism if they do these movements often and in a variety of circumstances. Others may think it's odd and stare or even make fun of the person doing them. Social support from the group and from a caring counselor can help them deal with the frustration of being different in this obvious way.


Echolalia is repetitive speech. An autistic adult might repeat the last word each time the other person stops speaking. When this happens often, it's important seek help from a certified therapist who can determine the person's degree of autism. It is a simple sign that's easy to recognize, but a counselor will do a much more extensive assessment of the condition.

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Obsessions can be both a plus and a minus. The positive aspect is that those with adult onset autism may end up with a wealth of knowledge and skills far beyond what others have. Intense interests in science and math can make them an excellent candidate for many occupations. Their intense interests may prompt them to memorize facts or collect objects that others find interesting. The downside is that these obsessions can take over their life, keeping them from succeeding at work or having meaningful relationships.

Inability to Recognize Danger

Because they have difficulties in predicting the future, adults with autism find it hard to imagine what will happen next. They not only have trouble knowing what someone will say or do next, but the problem may be much more serious than that. One must be able to imagine the negative consequences to stay safe, so this inability can have dire results.

Problems with Planning for the Future

A lack of social imagination is likely to make planning for the future difficult. Even for people who have mild adult autism may tend to think that things are always going to be the same as they are right now. Any thought of change comes with fear and anxiety.


Planning to make a career move, buy a house, or take a vacation can cause great distress. The person with autism cannot imagine the steps for making the change or the challenges they are likely to face. Even worse, they may find it hard to predict the advantages of a new project.

Difficulty with New Situations

Everyone goes through changes in their life, even if they try to avoid them. The world changes around you, you get older, you learn more, and eventually your situation will shift in some way. A person with autism has trouble adapting to anything new. It's hard to cope with unfamiliar places, people and activities. Other symptoms may become more pronounced as they grapple with this new state of affairs.

Information Overload

The world seems to be coming to people with autism too fast at times. Every conversation, every activity, every new place has a vast number of components that they must decipher and respond to in the moment. When they feel overwhelmed with so much information, they may isolate themselves from others or retreat to the comfort of anything familiar they can find.

What Autism Can Look Like after Treatment

Knowing what adult autism looks like offers adults with autism the opportunity to seek professional help to get a definitive adult autism diagnosis if they meet the diagnostic criteria. A skilled therapist can recognize both severe autism spectrum disorder in adults and mild autism in adults. They can perform adult autism screening to put those who have it on the right track towards improvement.

Autism never goes away completely, but treatment can create major improvements in thinking and social functioning. A therapist can help to improve communication and increase social imagination for those with autism in adults. Autistic individuals can learn to be aware of their social behaviors and manage them so their interactions with others can go more smoothly. A therapist will provide emotional support as adults with autism learns and practices new ways of speaking and acting. Proper treatment can not only make others more comfortable, but it can also make the person with autism feel more comfortable with others.

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