This blog post was written by Christina Davis, MS, Resident in Counseling
According to a study published by the CDC (2020), it’s reported that 2.21% of adults living in the United States have been diagnosed with autism – either receiving the diagnosis as a child or an adult.
As an adult, you might be aware of some signs that are leading you to think you might have autism. Also, as an adult with no previous diagnosis, you may not initially realize that some things you’ve dealt with your whole life are symptoms of undiagnosed autism.
What is autism?
Let’s first explore what Autism is.
According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), an individual with autism has a persistent deficit in social communication and interaction along with restricted, repetitive behaviors that cause impairment within a social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. That might appear like medical jargon to some so let’s break it down a little better.
Below is a list of how autism presents in adults that might make it easier to understand.
- Do you notice a difficulty or difference in communication?
- This can present either with verbal or nonverbal communication. Often “small talk” is difficult to understand to those on the Autism Spectrum. You might be good at talking about what interests you, but not be interested in others’ opinions on the topic.
- It can present as having a hard time making eye contact or understanding facial expressions.
- It might also make it difficult to recognize another person’s tone of voice or conversation style.
- It might also be hard to follow conversations with others and understand why what they are saying is important.
- Do you notice that you struggle socially?
- Often when you have trouble communicating it transcends into social struggles.
- People might have labeled you “weird” or “rude” in the past when that wasn’t your intention.
- This could result in you becoming socially isolated from your peers even as an adult. You might feel as though you don’t have many friends.
- Do you exhibit self-stimulating behaviors better known as “stimming”?
- Have you ever felt the need to move your arms repeatedly, tap your foot, or rocked because you needed to even if you didn’t want to? You might pace a lot, play with your hair repeatedly, or even fidget with something. This is what we refer to as stimming.
- You might be asking what is stimming. Well, it’s where you perform a repetitive movement that helps you feel better in some way. This may calm you down or distract you. When you try to hide these stimming behaviors, you might get an overwhelming feeling of unfulfillment as you aren’t getting what you need.
- Do you feel as though you might be hyper/hypo sensitive to your environment?
- With Autism, most people either get hypersensitive which means they get overstimulated by the world around them or hypo-sensitive which means they are often understimulated by the world around them.
- An example of hypersensitive people is that they get exhausted around people or noises bother them. Hypo-sensitive is when those with Autism often want to be in their own world and don’t interact with many.
What should you do if you think you are autistic – but have never been diagnosed as an adult?
The answer itself is a personal choice. If you believe that you might be autistic, it might be beneficial to find a provider who can provide you with a proper diagnosis. A psychologist who diagnoses adults will be the most helpful. You may also be able to reach out to a children’s provider and ask if they are comfortable with diagnosing adults.
Why should you get a diagnosis? What is the benefit?
You might be thinking to yourself why now? What benefit will I have if I have a diagnosis and how will this help me later?
There are a few benefits that come with an actual diagnosis which are listed below:
- A diagnosis might help those around you better understand why you experience the difficulties that you do.
- You may obtain a correct diagnosis versus the misdiagnosis you received in the past.
- It opens the opportunity for services and benefits you may not have had in the past.
- There could be appropriate accommodations from an employer, university, or college.
As a counselor whose focus is working with those either with an Autism diagnosis, or a potential diagnosis, knowing an accurate diagnosis has been helpful in providing counseling to individuals.
Often a clear diagnosis helps connect the dots and provides a clearer understanding of behaviors. It is our job to guide individuals in their path and connect the dots between behaviors and diagnosis.
If you are an adult with a diagnosis or suspected diagnosis of autism, we have mental health counselors that are available to help. Learn more here about mental health care for autistic adults.
CDC. (n.d.). Key Findings: CDC Releases First Estimates of the Number of Adults Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/features/adults-living-with-autism-spectrum-disorder.html