What Is Autism Like In Adults?

Discover what autism is like in adults, exploring challenges, strategies, and support for a unique perspective.

Alan Hollander
July 8, 2024

What Is Autism Like In Adults?

Discover what autism is like in adults, exploring challenges, strategies, and support for a unique perspective.

Understanding Autism in Adults

Autism in adults is a topic that is becoming increasingly understood as more adults seek diagnoses and as more research is conducted. To answer the question, "what is autism like in adults?", it's crucial to consider its prevalence, as well as the impact it has on daily activities like work.

Prevalence and Statistics

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects people across all age groups. According to a 2017 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 5.4 million American adults are on the autism spectrum. Furthermore, research indicates that a significant portion of autistic adults could have a psychiatric disorder alongside ASD. A 2019 meta-analysis showed that among autistic adults, approximately 30% had a co-occurring psychiatric diagnosis.

Autism is not always diagnosed in childhood, and some adults struggle with symptoms and challenges associated with autism without having received a formal diagnosis. Awareness of autism in adults has increased, leading many to seek testing and diagnosis, often prompted by recognizing autistic traits after a family member's diagnosis.

Impact on Work Experiences

The unique characteristics associated with autism can influence work experiences. Autistic individuals may have different social communication styles and sensory sensitivities, which can impact their interaction with colleagues and their ability to function optimally in certain work environments.

Furthermore, autistic adults may experience higher levels of stress due to social interactions and sensory challenges. This can impact their productivity and overall job satisfaction. However, with the right support and accommodations, autistic adults can thrive in the workplace. Strategies such as providing clear and explicit instructions, avoiding figurative language, and being patient when seeking responses from autistic team members can improve communication.

Tailoring the work environment to accommodate the specific needs of autistic employees is key to their success. This may include providing noise-canceling headphones to mitigate sensory issues or flexible work hours to assist with time management.

Understanding autism in adults is a multi-faceted process that requires an appreciation of the condition's complexities and the individual's unique experiences. By fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, autistic adults can lead fulfilling professional lives.

Challenges Faced by Autistic Adults

Understanding what is autism like in adults requires an exploration into the unique challenges they face on a daily basis. These challenges can be categorized into three main areas: social communication styles, sensory sensitivities, and stress levels.

Social Communication Styles

Autistic adults often have different social communication styles compared to their neurotypical peers. They may find it difficult to understand social cues and control their emotions, which can impact their interactions with others. In particular, those with low support needs, previously referred to as high-functioning or Asperger's syndrome, may still find day-to-day social interactions challenging despite appearing mild in their autism traits. It’s also important to note that autism is a spectrum disorder, implying that needs and abilities can vary greatly among individuals.

Sensory Sensitivities

Many adults with autism experience sensory sensitivities or sensory overload. This can be triggered by certain sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or textures that may seem ordinary to others. The heightened sensitivity to sensory inputs can cause discomfort or distress, and it can significantly impact an individual's daily functioning and quality of life. This aspect is often overlooked but can play a significant role in the challenges faced by autistic adults, including those with low support needs.

Stress Levels

Autistic adults may experience higher levels of stress due to a number of factors, including social interactions and sensory challenges. In fact, up to 84% of individuals with autism meet the criteria for clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders, indicating elevated levels of anxiety compared to typically developing peers [5]. Moreover, changes, even minor ones, can be stressful for people on the autism spectrum, as they often prefer familiar environments with a predictable routine [5]. These stress levels can also be exacerbated by the difficulties they may face in expressing their anxiety due to their communication styles.

In summary, the challenges faced by autistic adults are multifaceted and can significantly impact their daily lives. Understanding these challenges is the first step towards providing effective support and interventions for adults with autism.

Strategies for Supporting Autistic Adults

In order to understand what autism is like in adults, it is essential to look at both the challenges faced and the strategies that can be employed for support. By employing effective communication techniques and tailoring the work environment, it's possible to create a more inclusive and supportive space for autistic adults.

Effective Communication Techniques

Clear and explicit communication is a fundamental aspect of supporting adults with autism. This involves providing detailed instructions, avoiding figurative language, and being patient when seeking responses. It's important to allow time for processing and understanding, as this can greatly aid in successful communication.

Visual strategies can also be highly beneficial. Tools such as Social Stories™, social scripts, task lists, schedules, and apps can assist in preparing for everyday changes and new situations. These aids can significantly reduce anxiety and improve overall communication [5].

Furthermore, interventions should aim at developing social and communicative competency through direct teaching, modeling, coaching, and role-playing activities in real-world situations. While psychotherapy and counseling can be helpful, focusing on core deficits or "skill deficits" that have not been instinctively learned is essential. This approach allows the individual to build social skills in a practical and applicable manner.

Tailoring the Work Environment

Creating a supportive work environment for autistic adults often involves making specific accommodations. This could include providing noise-canceling headphones to mitigate sensory issues or offering flexible work hours to assist with time management. By adapting the work environment to meet their specific needs, autistic individuals may experience a higher level of success and job satisfaction.

Transition planning can also be beneficial in helping individuals on the autism spectrum build resilience and independence. By teaching strategies to cope with changes in environments and routines, stress and anxiety can be reduced, and behavioral issues prevented.

In conclusion, understanding and accommodating the unique perspective of autism in adults can significantly enhance their quality of life, independence, and productivity. By implementing these strategies, individuals with autism can be better supported in their professional and personal lives.

Recommended Interventions for Adults with Autism

To address the question, "what is autism like in adults?", it's essential to understand the recommended interventions that can help adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) navigate their daily lives successfully. These interventions, recommended by the National Autistic Society, include employment support programs, structured leisure activities, and social skills training.

Employment Support Programs

Employment support programs are a critical intervention for adults with autism [6]. These programs aim to provide individuals with ASD the necessary support to secure and maintain meaningful employment. They may include job coaching, workplace accommodation advice, and vocational training. By assisting with job search strategies, interview preparation, and on-the-job mentoring, these programs can enhance the employment prospects and job satisfaction of adults with autism.

Structured Leisure Activities

Structured leisure activities are another recommended intervention [6]. People with autism often thrive on routine and predictability, and structured leisure activities provide an opportunity for them to engage in their interests in a controlled and supportive environment. These activities can range from art classes and music therapy to sports clubs and gardening groups. They not only provide enjoyment and relaxation but also help improve social interaction, motor skills, and self-esteem.

Social Skills Training

Social skills training is a vital intervention for adults with autism. This training can help individuals improve their ability to interact and communicate with others effectively. It can involve practicing specific social scenarios, learning to interpret body language and facial expressions, and understanding social etiquette. By improving social competence, this training can enhance the quality of life for adults with autism, contributing to more meaningful relationships and greater independence.

These are just a few of the interventions available to support adults with autism. It's important to remember that every person with autism is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it's essential to tailor these interventions to the individual's needs and preferences to ensure they provide the most significant benefit.

Managing Symptoms and Challenges

One of the main queries often posed is 'what is autism like in adults?' This section dives into the common symptoms and challenges faced by adults with autism, including anxiety and depression, executive functioning difficulties, and sensory overload.

Anxiety and Depression

Research confirms that up to 84% of individuals with autism meet the criteria for clinically diagnosed anxiety disorders, indicating elevated levels of anxiety compared to typically developing peers Autism Tasmania. Autism symptoms may also be accompanied by symptoms of anxiety, especially in biological women and girls, where Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may be overlooked or misdiagnosed initially Verywell Health.

Furthermore, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions are common in people with autism, including those with low support needs (previously known as high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome) Verywell Health.

It's worth noting that individuals with autism may have severe anxiety issues but have a decreased ability to express it due to characteristic communication difficulties, making it challenging to diagnose depressive or anxiety states Autism Tasmania.

Executive Functioning Difficulties

Many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) level 1, also known as low support needs autism or previously referred to as high-functioning autism (HFA), have trouble with executive functioning Verywell Health. They may face challenges in caring for things in their living space (like chores and grocery shopping) and have a hard time coping with even minor schedule changes at school or work.

Sensory Overload and Routine Preferences

People on the autism spectrum often prefer familiar environments with a predictable routine due to their behavioral, information processing, and sensory aspects. Changes, even small ones, can be stressful due to restricted and repetitive interests, sensory processing differences, and heightened anxiety Autism Tasmania.

Thus, transition planning, which involves teaching strategies to cope with changes in environments and routines, is crucial to help individuals on the autism spectrum build resilience, independence, reduce stress and anxiety, and prevent behavioral issues Autism Tasmania.

In conclusion, managing symptoms and challenges in adults with autism requires a comprehensive understanding of the unique needs and experiences of these individuals. Effective strategies should be tailored to their specific symptoms and difficulties, promoting a sense of well-being and improving their quality of life.

Seeking Diagnosis and Support

Understanding what autism is like in adults often begins with seeking a proper diagnosis. The process can be complex, but it plays a critical role in gaining a better understanding of oneself and finding the most effective support strategies.

Importance of Accurate Diagnosis

A diagnosis of autism in adulthood can bring clarity to individuals, helping them understand that there is a scientific reason for their differences and that they are not at fault for being different. Autism is not always diagnosed in childhood, and some adults struggle with symptoms and challenges associated with autism without having received a formal diagnosis. Awareness of autism in adults has increased, leading many to seek testing and diagnosis, often prompted by recognizing autistic traits after a family member's diagnosis [3].

Consulting Professionals

Adults seeking a formal autism diagnosis can consult with various professionals like primary care providers, psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. A medical diagnosis by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or neuropsychologist is typically necessary for applying for disability benefits based on an autism diagnosis.

Implications of Diagnosis

The implications of an autism diagnosis vary across the lifespan. For some, it may mean access to resources and support, while for others, it can bring a sense of relief and understanding. The Association for Autism and Neurodiversity (AANE) provides advice for adults seeking an autism diagnosis, information on the reasons for seeking a diagnosis, and its implications. They also offer resources for finding help and guidance on discussing autism with family, friends, and employers.

It's essential to note that traditionally, autism has been underdiagnosed in girls and women due to the assumption that it is more common in boys and men. This can make obtaining a diagnosis as an adult particularly challenging for females. Therefore, it's crucial to consult with professionals who understand these differences and can provide a comprehensive evaluation.

In conclusion, obtaining a formal diagnosis is a significant step towards understanding what autism is like in adults. It opens the door to a better understanding of oneself, the challenges one may face, and the strategies that can help meet those challenges.

References

[1]: https://www.disclo.com/resources/managing-employees-with-autism-creating-an-inclusive-workplace

[2]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/diagnosing-autism-or-asperger-syndrome-in-adults-259946

[3]: https://adult-autism.health.harvard.edu/resources/getting-an-autism-diagnosis-as-an-adult/

[4]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/why-high-functioning-autism-is-so-challenging-259951

[5]: https://www.autismtas.org.au/about-autism/common-challenges/

[6]: https://livingautism.com/interventions-adults-autism-spectrum/