Autistic Behaviors in Adults: Behavioral Patterns & Coping Strategies

Discover the truth behind autistic behaviors in adults, from daily impacts to coping strategies.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
April 19, 2024
7 min read
min read

Understanding Autism in Adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders, and while often diagnosed in childhood, some adults live with undiagnosed ASD. Adult ASD can present unique challenges, particularly in diagnosis, communication, and sensory sensitivities.

Diagnosis Challenges

Adults with ASD, particularly high-functioning autism, may not have received a diagnosis in childhood due to their ability to move through the world without assistance. This is sometimes referred to as Asperger's syndrome, now categorized under the broader umbrella of ASD [1].

In some cases, adults learn to live with the symptoms, making diagnosis challenging. A study shows no significant differences between the different age groups in the main traits of ASD as measured by the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). AQ scores based on self-report corresponded remarkably well with those from their spouses.

Communication Difficulties

Autistic behaviors in adults tend to be most prominent in communication skills. Adults with ASD might have a hard time reading social cues, which can make it difficult to maintain back-and-forth conversations or understand what another person is feeling. Detecting sarcasm and figures of speech can be particularly challenging.

Autistic adults often have narrow interests and focus intensely on one or two subjects. While this knowledge might be impressive, it can limit their ability to contribute to conversations beyond their favorite topics and may lead to social avoidance.

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensitivity to stimuli such as noise and touch can also be a notable aspect of autistic behaviors in adults [1]. This could potentially lead to sensory overload, making environments with a lot of sensory stimuli challenging for adults with ASD.

Overall, understanding autism in adults necessitates a closer look at these key areas: diagnosis, communication, and sensory sensitivities. By doing so, we can better support adults with ASD and continue to foster an inclusive society.

Behavioral Patterns

Analyzing the behavioral patterns of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can provide valuable insights into the nature of this condition. Three core behavioral aspects often observed are narrow interests, reliance on routine for emotional regulation, and social challenges.

Narrow Interests

Adults with ASD often exhibit an intense focus on one or two subjects, resulting in narrow interests. This deep-seated fascination, while often leading to impressive knowledge in the chosen areas, may limit their ability to contribute to conversations beyond their favorite topics. This can sometimes lead to social avoidance due to the perceived lack of shared interests [1].

Moreover, individuals with autism may find it challenging to try new things, demonstrating a preference for familiar activities and subjects. This predisposition further accentuates their narrow field of interests.

Routine and Emotional Regulation

Routine plays a crucial role in the lives of autistic adults. It provides a sense of order and predictability, helping them navigate the world around them. Any alteration to established routines can be distressing, leading to heightened anxiety and emotional dysregulation.

Sensory issues are another common characteristic of autism in adults. They may experience hypersensitivity to certain stimuli, such as lights, sounds, or textures, which can disrupt their daily routines and contribute to emotional instability.

Social Challenges

Social interaction poses significant challenges for individuals with autism. They might have difficulty reading social cues, which can make back-and-forth conversations challenging and lead to misunderstandings. Recognizing and interpreting sarcasm, figures of speech, and the emotions of others can be particularly challenging.

These social difficulties extend to various aspects of life, including making friends, finding and keeping a job, and dating. People with High-Functioning Autism (HFA), despite their cognitive abilities, can also struggle with recognizing social cues and body language, further complicating their social interactions.

These behavioral patterns, integral to understanding autistic behaviors in adults, impact their daily life and social interactions. Yet with appropriate support and understanding, individuals with autism can navigate these challenges effectively.

Impact on Daily Life

The manifestation of autistic behaviors in adults can significantly impact their daily life, including employment, mental health, and the need for tailored interventions.

Employment and Support Services

Autistic adults often face unique challenges in the workforce. According to a study cited by Medical News Today, 27% of autistic participants were unemployed. Furthermore, autistic adults may have more limited options for support services compared to children, with 25% of participants reporting not receiving enough support services.

The difficulties autistic adults face in finding and maintaining employment highlight the need for targeted support services. These may include job coaching, work accommodations, and vocational rehabilitation programs that can assist in navigating career-related challenges.

Mental Health

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can also have profound effects on an individual’s mental health. Certain prescription medications can help autistic people manage and alleviate symptoms associated with ASD, such as depression and anxiety. However, it is vital to note that each person's experience with ASD is unique, and what works for one individual may not work for another.

Early diagnosis and intervention can play a crucial role in managing these mental health challenges. Unfortunately, adults may not receive a diagnosis of autism until later in life due to less pronounced signs, making it harder to differentiate symptoms from established habits and behaviors. This delayed diagnosis often leads to adults being unaware of their autism and less likely to receive proper treatment.

Medication and Interventions

The use of medication and tailored interventions can be key in managing autistic behaviors in adults. As mentioned, certain prescription medications can help manage and alleviate symptoms associated with ASD. Additionally, vocational rehabilitation can help autistic individuals cope with career-related challenges by exploring further education, volunteering, or job changes.

Moreover, interventions recommended for adults with ASD include employment support programs, structured leisure activities, and social skills training according to the NICE guidelines from 2012 [6]. However, the National Autistic Society emphasizes the need for more scientific evidence to understand the effectiveness and impact of these interventions to enable informed decisions for autistic individuals and their families.

In conclusion, understanding the impact of ASD on the daily life of adults, especially in areas like employment, mental health, and the need for personalized interventions, is crucial. By doing so, we can ensure the provision of appropriate support and services to improve the quality of life for autistic adults.

High-Functioning Autism (HFA)

High-functioning autism (HFA), previously known as Asperger's syndrome, is an unofficial term that refers to individuals whose traits of autism appear mild. The official diagnostic term is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) level 1 [5]. Despite this classification, individuals with HFA face unique challenges and exhibit certain characteristics that significantly impact their daily lives.

Characteristics and Challenges

Adults with HFA share similar traits with autistic individuals who have low support needs. These traits include experiencing sensory overload, not understanding social cues, and difficulty controlling emotions.

While they may not require the same level of support as others on the spectrum, they still face significant challenges. For example, they may struggle with maintaining employment or forming meaningful relationships. These challenges often stem from intrinsic characteristics of autism, such as difficulty with communication and sensory sensitivities.

It's important to note that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity and range of symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Therefore, individuals with HFA may exhibit a wide range of behaviors and abilities, each with their own unique challenges and strengths.

Social Interaction Difficulties

One of the main challenges that individuals with HFA face is difficulty in recognizing social cues and body language. This can be a major obstacle to making friends, finding and keeping a job, and dating.

The inability to interpret social cues can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, resulting in feelings of isolation and frustration for the individual. Although they may have the desire to connect with others, the complexities of social interaction can often be confusing and overwhelming.

Sensory Overload

Sensory differences are another common characteristic of HFA. Individuals with HFA may find certain stimuli, such as noise, crowds, bright lights, strong tastes, smells, and touch, unbearable. As a result, activities like going to restaurants, movies, and shopping malls can be difficult for them.

This sensory overload can lead to feelings of anxiety and discomfort, making it challenging for individuals with HFA to participate in many everyday activities. Therefore, understanding and accommodating these sensory sensitivities can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with HFA.

Coping strategies, such as employment support, social skills training, and structured leisure activities, can greatly assist adults with HFA in navigating these challenges. Furthermore, it's crucial to consult healthcare professionals before considering any interventions. Organizations like the National Autistic Society advise against using certain interventions like secretin, hyperbaric oxygen, and chelation for individuals with autism.

Coping Strategies

Dealing with autistic behaviors in adults can be challenging, but with the right set of coping strategies, significant improvements can be achieved. These strategies include employment support, social skills training, and structured leisure activities which are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines from 2012.

Employment Support

Employment support programs play a pivotal role in assisting adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to navigate the professional world. These programs typically offer job coaching, vocational training, and workplace accommodations to help individuals with autism find meaningful employment. Given the communication difficulties and routine-related challenges faced by autistic individuals, such support can be instrumental in helping them thrive in the workplace. However, it's important to note that the National Autistic Society emphasizes the need for more scientific research to understand the effectiveness and impact of interventions, to enable informed decisions for autistic individuals and their families [6].

Social Skills Training

Social skills training is another crucial coping strategy for adults with autism. Given their inherent difficulties with communication, this form of training can significantly enhance their ability to interact with others. Training often includes understanding facial expressions, tones, sarcasm, and hand gestures, which autistic adults often struggle with. By improving their social skills, adults with autism can experience reduced social anxiety and improved relationship-building capabilities.

Structured Leisure Activities

Engaging in structured leisure activities can also be beneficial for adults with autism. Given their propensity for highly specific interests, organized activities around these interests can provide a sense of comfort and familiarity. However, introducing new activities within structured environments can also be a great way to encourage flexibility and adaptability, which can be challenging for individuals with autism. These activities can range from arts and crafts to sports, depending on the individual's preferences.

In conclusion, while dealing with autism in adults can be challenging due to less pronounced signs and often delayed diagnosis, with appropriate coping strategies and support in place, adults with autism can lead fulfilling and productive lives. It's crucial for these strategies to be tailored to each individual's needs, preferences, and capabilities to ensure their effectiveness. The combination of employment support, social skills training, and structured leisure activities can significantly improve the quality of life for adults with autism.








steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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