Are you a BCBA or an RBT? Join The New Golden Steps ABA Fellowship Program
See Open Roles
We do not have a commercial relationship with any of these companies and have not otherwise been endorsed by, are not affiliated with, and do not intend to suggest a connection to, any of the companies listed on the page.

What Is Autism Like in Adults?

Many people with autism continue to experience symptoms throughout their lives. In this article, we'll take a look at what autism is like in adults.

Autism in Adulthood: An Overview

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects individuals across their lifespan. While autism is commonly associated with childhood, it is important to recognize that autism can continue to impact individuals into adulthood. In this section, we will provide an introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder and explore the unique aspects of autism in adults.

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is characterized by a wide range of symptoms and varying degrees of impairment. The term "spectrum" emphasizes the diverse nature of autism, as individuals with ASD can present with different strengths and challenges.

ASD is typically diagnosed in early childhood, but it is important to understand that autism persists throughout a person's life. The symptoms and challenges faced by individuals with autism can evolve and manifest differently in adulthood compared to childhood. It is crucial for parents and caregivers to be aware of the unique aspects of autism in adults and provide appropriate support.

man walking on empty road

Understanding Autism in Adults

Autism in adults is often characterized by a combination of social interaction challenges, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behaviors. However, the presentation of these symptoms can vary from person to person. Some individuals may have mild symptoms that allow them to live independently, while others may require more support in daily living.

One key aspect of autism in adults is the impact it can have on employment and career development. Many adults with autism face challenges in finding and maintaining employment due to difficulties with social interactions, sensory sensitivities, and executive functioning. However, it is important to recognize that individuals with autism possess unique strengths and talents that can be valuable in the workplace.

In addition to employment, relationships and social interactions can also present challenges for adults with autism. Difficulties in understanding social cues, maintaining conversations, and forming meaningful connections can contribute to feelings of isolation and loneliness. However, with appropriate support and understanding, individuals with autism can build fulfilling relationships and engage in social activities.

Lastly, independent living and daily routines can be areas of challenge for adults with autism. Executive functioning difficulties, sensory sensitivities, and resistance to change can affect the ability to manage daily tasks and establish routines. However, with the right strategies and support, individuals with autism can develop the necessary skills to live independently and navigate their daily lives.

Understanding the unique aspects of autism in adults is crucial for providing appropriate support and resources. By recognizing the challenges faced by adults with autism, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and understanding society that empowers individuals with autism to reach their full potential.

Common Symptoms of Autism in Adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) manifests differently in adults compared to children. Recognizing the symptoms of autism in adults is crucial for understanding and supporting individuals on the spectrum. Here are three common symptoms observed in adults with autism: social interaction challenges, communication difficulties, and restricted and repetitive behaviors.

Social Interaction Challenges

Adults with autism often face challenges in social interactions. They may struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and interpreting nonverbal communication. Initiating and sustaining conversations may be difficult, leading to feelings of social isolation and difficulty forming meaningful relationships.

Social Interaction Challenges

  • Difficulty understanding social cues
  • Struggles with maintaining eye contact
  • Challenges interpreting nonverbal communication
  • Difficulty initiating and sustaining conversations
  • Feelings of social isolation

Communication Difficulties

Communication difficulties are another hallmark of autism in adults. They may have trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication, such as understanding sarcasm, jokes, or figurative language. Some individuals may have a monotone or flat speech pattern, while others may struggle with expressive language or find it challenging to initiate or respond to conversations.

Communication Difficulties

  • Difficulty understanding sarcasm, jokes, or figurative language
  • Monotone or flat speech pattern
  • Expressive language challenges
  • Difficulty initiating or responding to conversations

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

Restricted and repetitive behaviors are characteristic of autism in both children and adults. These behaviors can include repetitive movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), adherence to strict routines or rituals, intense interests in specific topics, and resistance to change. Adults with autism may also exhibit sensory sensitivities, experiencing either hyper or hypo-sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, or lights.

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

  • Repetitive movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking)
  • Adherence to strict routines or rituals
  • Intense interests in specific topics
  • Resistance to change
  • Sensory sensitivities (hyper or hypo-sensitivity)

Recognizing these common symptoms is essential for understanding the experiences of adults with autism. It can help individuals seek appropriate support and interventions while promoting inclusivity and empathy in society.

Challenges Faced by Adults with Autism

Living with autism as an adult can present unique challenges that impact various aspects of life. In this section, we will explore some of the common challenges faced by adults with autism, including employment and career development, relationships and social interactions, and independent living and daily routines.

Employment and Career Development

Finding and maintaining employment can be particularly challenging for adults with autism. The social and communication difficulties associated with autism can affect job interviews, workplace interactions, and job performance. Additionally, sensory sensitivities and difficulties with executive functioning may pose additional obstacles in certain work environments.

It is essential for employers to create an inclusive and supportive workplace environment that accommodates the unique needs and strengths of individuals with autism. This can include providing clear instructions, minimizing sensory distractions, and offering support and training programs tailored to the specific requirements of employees with autism.

Relationships and Social Interactions

Building and maintaining relationships can be another significant challenge for adults with autism. Difficulties with social communication and understanding social cues may make it challenging to establish meaningful connections with others. Individuals with autism may struggle with initiating and sustaining conversations, interpreting nonverbal cues, and understanding social norms.

Supportive social skills training programs and therapy can help individuals with autism develop strategies to navigate social interactions more effectively. By enhancing their understanding of social cues and communication skills, adults with autism can improve their ability to form and maintain relationships.

Independent Living and Daily Routines

Managing daily routines and living independently can be demanding for adults with autism. Difficulties with executive functioning, sensory sensitivities, and adapting to changes in routine can make simple tasks more challenging. Planning and organizing daily activities, managing personal finances, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can require additional support and guidance.

Structured programs and interventions can assist individuals with autism in developing the necessary skills to live independently. These programs may focus on managing time and tasks, improving organizational skills, and providing strategies to cope with sensory sensitivities.

It's important to recognize that these challenges are not insurmountable. With appropriate support, accommodations, and understanding from society, adults with autism can overcome these obstacles and lead fulfilling lives.

By promoting inclusivity, raising awareness, and providing resources, we can create a more supportive environment for individuals with autism to thrive in various aspects of their lives.

Late Diagnosis and Recognition of Autism in Adults

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that can often go undiagnosed in adults, leading to challenges in understanding and addressing their unique needs. In this section, we will explore the factors contributing to late diagnosis, the importance of identifying autism in adulthood, and the process of seeking professional assessment and diagnosis.

Factors Contributing to Late Diagnosis

There are several factors that can contribute to the late diagnosis of autism in adults. These may include:

  • Limited awareness: Many individuals, their families, and even healthcare professionals may have limited knowledge about the presentation of autism in adults, leading to missed signs and symptoms.
  • Masking and compensation: Some individuals with autism develop coping mechanisms and strategies to navigate social situations, which can make it difficult to recognize the underlying challenges they face.
  • Misdiagnosis and co-occurring conditions: Autism symptoms may overlap with other mental health conditions, resulting in misdiagnosis or the focus on treating the co-occurring condition rather than considering autism.
  • Gender differences: Autism is often underdiagnosed in females, as they may present with different behavioral patterns and social challenges compared to males.
  • Lack of access to services: Limited access to healthcare resources, especially for individuals from marginalized communities, can delay the diagnosis and intervention process.

The Importance of Identifying Autism in Adulthood

Identifying autism in adulthood is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it allows individuals to gain a better understanding of themselves and their unique strengths and challenges. Diagnosis provides validation and helps individuals make sense of their experiences, potentially reducing feelings of isolation.

Secondly, a late diagnosis can open doors to appropriate support and resources. With an understanding of their autism, individuals can access tailored interventions, therapies, and support networks that can enhance their well-being and quality of life.

Lastly, recognizing autism in adulthood can lead to improved self-advocacy and self-acceptance. It allows individuals to develop strategies for managing their challenges and leverage their strengths. It can also help them navigate relationships, employment, and daily routines more effectively.

Seeking Professional Assessment and Diagnosis

If an individual suspects they may have autism or if their loved ones observe behaviors consistent with autism, seeking professional assessment and diagnosis is recommended. The diagnostic process typically involves:

  1. Screening: A preliminary screening may be conducted to evaluate the presence of autism-related symptoms.
  2. Comprehensive evaluation: A comprehensive assessment, conducted by a healthcare professional specializing in autism, involves gathering information through interviews, questionnaires, and observations. This comprehensive evaluation helps to determine if the individual meets the criteria for an autism diagnosis.
  3. Collaboration: The diagnostic process often involves collaboration between healthcare professionals, educators, and other individuals familiar with the individual's behavior and development.
  4. Diagnostic outcome: After the evaluation, the healthcare professional will provide a diagnostic outcome, which may include the confirmation of an autism diagnosis or the identification of other conditions that may be contributing to the individual's challenges.
  5. Post-diagnostic support: Following the diagnosis, individuals and their families can access post-diagnostic support, including information, resources, and referrals to appropriate interventions and services.

By seeking professional assessment and diagnosis, adults with autism can gain clarity about their condition and access the necessary support to help them navigate their daily lives more effectively.

It is essential to remember that a late diagnosis does not invalidate an individual's experiences or challenges. It is never too late to seek understanding and support, and a diagnosis can be a transformative step towards self-awareness and empowerment.

Support and Resources for Adults with Autism

Navigating life as an adult with autism can come with its own set of challenges. However, there are various support systems and resources available to help individuals with autism thrive and reach their full potential.

In this section, we will explore three key areas of support: therapy and interventions, skill development and training programs, and community support and advocacy groups.

Therapy and Interventions

Therapy and interventions play a crucial role in supporting adults with autism. These therapeutic approaches are designed to address specific needs and enhance overall functioning. Some commonly utilized therapies and interventions for adults with autism include:

Therapy/Intervention Description
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) A structured approach that focuses on teaching and reinforcing positive behaviors while reducing challenging behaviors.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) A type of therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can be beneficial for managing anxiety and improving social skills.
Speech and Language Therapy This therapy targets communication difficulties and helps individuals develop language skills, improve articulation, and enhance social communication.
Occupational Therapy Occupational therapy focuses on developing fine motor skills, sensory integration, and daily living skills to improve independence and functional abilities.

Skill Development and Training Programs

Skill development and training programs are essential for adults with autism to enhance their abilities and achieve greater independence. These programs focus on various areas, including:

Skill Development/Training Program Description
Social Skills Training These programs aim to improve social interactions, enhance conversation skills, and promote understanding of social cues and nonverbal communication.
Vocational Training Vocational training programs assist individuals in developing job-related skills, such as resume writing, interview techniques, and workplace etiquette. They help adults with autism find and maintain employment.
Independent Living Skills Training These programs focus on teaching individuals essential life skills, such as managing finances, cooking, personal hygiene, and using public transportation. They promote self-sufficiency and independent living.

Community Support and Advocacy Groups

Community support and advocacy groups are invaluable resources for adults with autism and their families. These groups provide a sense of belonging, understanding, and support. They offer opportunities for individuals to connect with others who share similar experiences and challenges. Additionally, these groups often organize workshops, events, and educational sessions to spread awareness and promote advocacy for autism rights.

Support/Advocacy Group Description
Autism Speaks A well-known organization that provides resources, support, and advocacy for individuals with autism and their families. They offer toolkits, online communities, and informational resources.
The Autism Society This organization aims to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism through advocacy, support, and education. They provide local chapters, support groups, and community events.
Local Support Groups Many communities have local support groups that offer a safe space for individuals with autism to connect, share experiences, and receive support from others facing similar challenges.

By accessing these support systems and resources, adults with autism can receive the guidance, encouragement, and tools they need to lead fulfilling lives. It's important for individuals and their families to explore these options and find the ones that best meet their unique needs and aspirations.


Autism is a complex disorder that can have a significant impact on the lives of individuals who live with it. However, with the right support and resources, many individuals with autism are able to lead fulfilling and meaningful lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with autism, know that there is help available.


Continue Reading