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Undiagnosed Autism in Adults

March 6, 2023

Undiagnosed Autism in Adults

As the world at large is learning more about autism spectrum disorder, a whole host of adults are starting to recognize the possibility they have undiagnosed autism. It’s leading to adults seeking out testing for a possible autism diagnosis. While autism spectrum disorder is often diagnosed as early as two years old, many adults are learning about the signs and symptoms of autism to help themselves grow.

There are three major areas of undiagnosed autism in adults. Those include social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors. While some autistic adults may exhibit signs or symptoms similar to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, others may have issues with communication. Much like in children, autism spectrum disorder presents itself differently in each individual adult.

From a personal perspective, I’ve dealt with the possibility of undiagnosed autism in myself. My wife has noted that many of my habits are incredibly similar to those identified as signs or symptoms of autism. Both of our sons have been diagnosed as autistic, and she’s convinced that I am also on the autism spectrum but wasn’t diagnosed, because it wasn’t very as common of a diagnosis in the 80s and 90s when I was a child.

During a visit to one of my younger son’s doctors, even his doctor noticed some of my quirks and recommended that I get tested for a possible diagnosis. I didn’t go through with the testing, because, right now, it’s far more important that both of my children get the support they need. I will always put my kids first, but I have considered getting tested at some point down the line.

Do You Have An Adult Child With Undiagnosed Autism?

Most adults with undiagnosed autism would fall under the category of high functioning autism. While that term has fallen out of favor with many in the autistic community, it remains an accurate depiction for adults who weren’t diagnosed as children. As our knowledge of what is a sign of autism changes, so do efforts to diagnose both adults and children. Many autistic adults weren’t diagnosed because their cases weren’t obvious by the known symptoms of the times.

Many adults who may suspect they are autistic and haven’t been diagnosed may not know exactly what to do next. The Adult Autism Center offers some tips to help guide these adults both as they seek out a diagnosis and as they deal with the emotions that come with a diagnosis. Those emotions can range from relief to shame depending on that individual’s knowledge of autism spectrum disorder.

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What Are Some Signs Of Autism In Adults?

There are several signs of autism in adults that can reveal the person has not been diagnosed despite being on the spectrum. The signs range from social to sensory to communication to behaviors. Demonstrating these signs do not necessarily mean the adult has undiagnosed autism, but they are a starting point.

Social Signs

One social sign is the person may begin acting like the people with whom they are socializing. If their friend is bubbly and loud, they may become bubbly and loud. If the friend is sarcastic and humorous, that person may begin acting sarcastic and humorous. Mimicking is one of many common signs of autism and that can certainly be true for undiagnosed adults on the autism spectrum. If my wife is correct about me being on the spectrum but undiagnosed, I can certainly attest to this. I’m more talkative around my more talkative friends. I’m more sarcastic around my more sarcastic friends. I certainly mimic the friends who surround me.

Many autistic adults, just like many autistic children, can also be very rigid. They may like things a certain way. It’s sometimes addressed as obsessive compulsive disorder but is a sign of autism spectrum disorder. Another example from my personal life would be my collection of books and movies. I like them all to be lined up alphabetically by series, then by title. When something is moved, it bothers me until I can put it back in place. That has continued since we cut the cable cord and bought a Roku. I arrange the apps on the Roku by category. Then, I alphabetize each of the apps within each category. It makes me uncomfortable when I notice one has been moved.

Another social sign that may be a sign of an adult with undiagnosed autism is repetitive behavior. The person may need to do the same thing over and over again. It may be as simple as just eating the same breakfast each morning, while for others, it may be more complicated and require a consistent routine. Think like Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.” He had a routine for each day and any deviation led to trouble for him and his friends on the show.

Sensory Signs

There are loads of sensory signs that may be connected to any of the five primary senses. For example, autistic adults may be picky eaters or may only want to go to certain restaurants. This falls in line with repetitive behaviors for social signs, but it’s also a sensory sign.

Those who crave touch may want deep squeezes or hugs, while others may not like touch. One of my autistic children loves deep pressure hugs. It’s soothing for him. As an adult who has questioned if I have undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder, I don’t like tight clothing. I hate the way it feels on my skin. I often buy shirts that are a size or two too big because I prefer the looser fit.

Communication Signs

Autistic adults, especially those without an official diagnosis, may have communication difficulties, especially with eye contact and body language. Some may not like to look others in the eye for too long. While other people may want to constantly look into the eyes of the people around them. Autistic adults also may not understand how their body language can contribute to troubles with social interaction. Autistic people can have trouble reading social cues, so they often struggle with communication skills.

Adults who may be on the autism spectrum may also prefer written communication to oral communication. That’s because it’s easier for them to understand a text or email compared to a face to face conversation or a phone call. Missing social cues through oral communication can lead to difficulty relating with others.

Behavioral Signs

Autistic adults may also have plenty of behavioral patterns that are easier to recognize now. Many will fidget in some way. Turning to my own behaviors, I constantly rub my hands together. It’s a behavioral tic I’ve had since I was a kid. It’s often led to people asking if I was cold or excited. I really couldn’t control it. I often thought it was a sign of undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it may be, but it may also be a sign of undiagnosed autism spectrum disorder.

Much like social and sensory signs, repetitive behaviors and any disruption to them can be a behavioral sign, as well. I have family members who must do the same thing at the same time every day. It may be autism, it may not, but it’s definitely a sign of autism spectrum disorder in some people.

Other signs of someone who might be on the autism spectrum include over or under reactions. I have some family members who fly off the handle very easily over things that others perceive to be small. I’ve been known to do that as well. Still, other times, my wife will tell people I underreact. She says I avoid confrontation to “obscene levels” at times, such as when a place gets my food order wrong and I’d rather eat it than send it back. Other times, when something happens that would make other people angry, I have little to no reaction. I thought I was being easy-going but it could be a sign of autism.

How Can An Adult Get An Autism Diagnosis?

Any adult can seek out a formal diagnosis by talking with their doctor or health professional. There is no medical test to diagnose autism, but doctors can review behaviors to make an ASD diagnosis. Anyone seeking to learn more about autism in adults can schedule a visit. A trained healthcare professional will ask questions and see how you respond. Doctors also often take into account self-reported autism symptoms.

Support For Autistic People

If you believe you have autism, but it is undiagnosed, I encourage you to seek out an ASD diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with autism, or some other spectrum disorder, there are support groups available to help you through your journey. There are online groups and websites like autismandhealth.org for autistic people to learn and grow.

You can also reach out to your state or town website. Many will offer support services for autism. Remember, each country, state and town offers different support services, so it’s important to seek out the ones in your area.

There are also blogs written by autistic individuals who weren’t diagnosed until adulthood as well. They are trying to share their journey to make it easier for those with autism who are in a similar situation.

Remember, a lot more is known about autism, especially autism in adults, today than was known just ten years ago. And more is being learned each and every day. It’s very possible you or your adult child may have an undiagnosed case of autism. Autism in adults is not the end of the world, just like autism diagnosed in childhood is not the end of the world. Let’s continue learning and growing together.

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