Signs & Symptoms Of Autism In Adults

Do you want to know how to identify autism in adults? Read on to learn the most common signs.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Among the most common neurodevelopmental disorders is autism spectrum disorder. While autistic individuals are usually diagnosed during childhood, some individuals aren't diagnosed until they have reached adulthood.

Even in situations where the symptoms are severe, it's possible that a misdiagnosis occurred or there was no diagnosis given.

There are several reasons why it can be beneficial to obtain a diagnosis during your adult years, the primary of which is that it allows for better access to support and services. This guide offers a closer look at the many signs of autism in adults.

Common Signs & Symptoms of Autism in Adults

The signs of autism among adults can be separated into symptoms that occur at home and symptoms that occur at work.

Autism Symptoms in Adults at Home

The primary symptoms of autism in adults at home include:

  • You have always searched for a best friend but have never had one
  • You're commonly tripping or bumping into objects
  • You prefer individual sports and games over team games
  • You adhere to the same schedule every day and don't like change
  • You make noises regularly even when in a quiet location
  • You tend to invent expressions and words in order to describe things

Autism Symptoms in Adults at Work

The primary symptoms of autism in adults at work include:

  • Your co-workers often tell you that your speech pattern is like a robot
  • Every item on your work desk has a specific place that it needs to be
  • You're extremely good at solving math problems but have issues in other areas of your work
  • You speak to coworkers in the same manner that you speak with friends and family
  • You often make involuntary sounds during meetings
  • You find it difficult to identify if your boss is happy or disappointed with your performance
  • You tend to look at your shoes or the wall when speaking with your boss

Autistic individuals oftentimes display great talents in music, art, math, and visual skills. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should speak with a doctor to request an autism evaluation or seek treatment.

Communication & Social Interaction Difficulties

Autism can develop in any age group or ethnic group. It's usually characterized by communication and social issues alongside repetitive behaviors. While autism is typically diagnosed in a child's first two years, high-functioning people can be diagnosed later on in life. The issues are usually separated into nonverbal communication problems, difficulty with making eye contact, difficulty with understanding social cues, and difficulty with social interaction.

Difficulty with Nonverbal Communication

People who suffer from autism may experience difficulty with displaying nonverbal communication that provides meaning to their speech. For instance, an adult with autism may be unable to properly point to an object that they are speaking about.

Difficulty with Making Eye Contact

Many individuals with autism avoid eye contact, which can make them appear to be inattentive, rude, or uninterested.

Difficulty with Social Interaction

Social disconnection is among the most common signs of autism. Individuals with autism can find it challenging to engage in the complex and give-and-take nature of human interactions, which makes it difficult to hold lengthy conversations.

Difficulty with Understanding Social Cues

People with autism have difficulty understanding social cues, which means that they don't know how to adjust their behavior to match varying social contexts. It's possible, however, for autistic individuals to learn such skills.

Repetitive Behaviors and Interests

Adults with autism tend to display repetitive behaviors in almost all aspects of their lives.

Stereotyped Behaviors and Interests

Stereotyped behaviors are semi-voluntary behaviors that can include everything from hand-flapping to spinning objects. Additional forms of stereotypy include toe walking, sniffing, body rocking, and running objects across your peripheral vision.

Rigid Routine

If you have rigid schedules, routines, or daily patterns that you believe you cannot deviate from regardless of the situation, it's possible that you have autism.

Insistence on Sameness

Adults who have autism usually long for sameness and despise change. It's common for these individuals to think about or do the same things constantly. These actions and thoughts can feel like a compulsion or source of comfort.

Sensory Issues

When an adult has autism, it's possible for some sensations to be unbearable to them. These issues pertain to the five senses.

Hypersensitivity to the Five Senses

If you're either very sensitive or not at all sensitive to pain, touch, smell, or sound, you may have autism. Hypersensitivity occurs when you're bothered by smells or sounds that other people don't have issues with. For instance, you might feel pain if your friend taps you on your shoulder.

Difficulty with Adaptation and Change

Many of the signs of autism occur because of the challenges that result from change.

Resistance to Change

Any changes in expectations or routines can lead to strong emotions that might include meltdowns or outbursts. These individuals also have a consistency to their routines and will often have outbursts when their routines change.

Difficulty with Coping with Stress

Stress is commonly felt among adults with autism. If, for instance, someone has difficulty relating to their friends, this issue can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. An increase to stress levels can make it more difficult for this person to communicate.

Difficulty with Adjusting to New Situations

Change is an everyday occurrence. For individuals with autism, predictability is necessary to feel safe and calm, which is why new situations usually result in problems with adjusting. Fear and anxiety are common emotions that only worsen other symptoms.

Other Characteristics

There are a few additional characteristics that point toward autism and should be explored, the primary of which include restricted emotional range and self-stimulatory behaviors.

Restricted Emotional Range

People with autism can develop emotional dysregulation, which is a restricted ability to modulate the intensity, expression, and valence of emotions. Issues with emotional range can be displayed through tantrums, mood instability, and irritability.

Self-stimulatory Behaviors

Self-stimulatory behaviors include unusual or repetitive noises or body movements. These movements can include hand-flapping or finger-flicking. Another example involves rocking back and forth when standing or sitting.

Unusual Speech Patterns

This symptom can be displayed as constantly revising ideas, repeating phrases, and using filler words. Words can easily run together. It's also common for syllables in words to be deleted.

Diagnosis of Autism in Adults

There aren't any strict guidelines for how autism can be diagnosed in adults. However, the same diagnostic criteria that's used for children is often used to diagnose adults. Doctors and clinicians will diagnose adults by having numerous interactions with them, during which they will observe responses.

Assessments and Tests

Clinicians speak with patients about the issues they've been having in regards to their interests, behavioral patterns, communication, and emotions. Questions will be asked about the person's childhood as well. The clinician may want to speak with any close family members to obtain their perspectives on long-term behavior patterns.

Autistic Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)

One treatment solution involves the autistic diagnostic observation schedule (ADOS). The ADOS uses different social situations to effectively trigger interpersonal interactions and responses. The purpose of these situations is to elicit various physical, imaginative, verbal, and social interchanges. This technique is separated into four modules that each take around 30-40 minutes to complete.

Autism Diagnostic Interview-revised (ADI-R)

The revised autism diagnostic interview is conducted with an adult who is believed to be suffering from autism. This particular solution is effective for diagnosing autism and planning further treatment. The ADI-R usually takes upwards of two hours to finish. The five sections of this interview include:

  • Opening questions
  • Social development
  • Communication
  • Repetitive behavior questions
  • General behavior problems

Cognitive Tests

Cognitive tests focus on assessing the patient's cognitive processes and abilities to determine their needs. There isn't a standard cognitive profile that an individual with autism has. However, there are some common patterns. People with autism usually have lower processing speed and impaired executive function. These tests aim to measure such cognitive processes as memory, reasoning, phonological processing, and executive functioning.

Medical History and Family History

Since autism is usually diagnosed in children, a doctor will look for signs that indicate why an earlier diagnosis wasn't made with an adult patient. Their family history might also show that the patient has a higher risk of autism.

Family History

Having a family history of autism makes it considerably more likely that you'll have autism. However, not everyone who has an autistic family member will develop the condition as well, which is why this is only one factor that doctors consider when making a diagnosis.

Previous Diagnoses

It's possible for high-functioning children to be misdiagnosed, which means that their autism may not be detected until they are an adult. Some previous diagnoses that might help the doctor determine that you have autism include:

  • Reactive attachment disorder
  • Social communication disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Treatment and Support for Adults with Autism

There are many great solutions for treatment and support that adults with autism have access to, which include everything from behavioral therapy to speech and language therapy.

Behavioral Therapy

Autism is a brain development disorder that primarily affects communication and social behavior development, which is why behavioral therapy has proven to be highly effective. There are many different forms of behavioral therapy, the primary of which is cognitive behavioral therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that's centered around the science of behavior and learning. This form of analysis allows therapists to understand how learning takes place, how behavior works, and how behavior is directly impacted by the environment.

The goal of ABA therapy is to determine how the affected individual behaves in real situations. These therapy programs can help people with autism improve their memory, social skills, and attention. Communication skills can also improve. Over time, you may notice a reduction in problem behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a commonly used treatment for adults with autism who might have additional mental health issues. These issues can include ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Adults with autism are taught to avoid negative emotions and alter their behaviors. The point of this therapy is to help individuals change how they think about situations and how they react to these situations.

Social Skills Training

Social Skills Training (SST) involves numerous instruction methods and interventions designed to help individuals understand social skills and improve them. This form of treatment can be applied by therapists, autism support individuals, and behavior analysts.

Speech and Language Therapy

Speech-language therapy aims to resolve issues with communication and language. If applied correctly, it can assist adults with autism in improving their nonverbal, verbal, and communication skills. The route that this form of therapy takes largely depends on the specific issue that an individual is dealing with.

People with autism may be unable to speak. It's also possible for autistic individuals to talk almost constantly. In this scenario, the individual might find it difficult to understand facial expressions of others or hold a conversation. A speech-language pathologist will evaluate the person's strengths and challenges before creating personalized care.


The many types of medications that have proven to help with autism symptoms include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics.


While some antidepressants aren't recommended for autism treatment in adults, multiple studies have found improvements in obsessive-compulsive disorder, aggression, and other autism-related symptoms. Examples of antidepressants include paroxetine, fluvoxamine, and fluoxetine.


This is a class of medication that's used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. However, different antipsychotics have proven to be effective at treating some of the symptoms associated with autism. When combined with stimulants and antidepressants, these medications can result in less irritability and aggression. While studies are still being performed, there are signs that antipsychotics can help resolve additional autism symptoms.

Mood Stabilizers

Mood disorders are common in adults with autism, which is why mood stabilizers can relieve symptoms. One solution is lithium, which is commonly used with individuals who display symptoms of mood disorders. These symptoms include mania, paranoia, euphoria, and irritability. Experimental treatments like arbaclofen and N-acetylcysteine are currently being tested.

Support Services

There are a wide range of support services that are available to adults who suffer from autism. Many of these services are sponsored by a state or federal government department. However, there are also plenty of nonprofit organizations that provide support.

Support Groups

Support groups for autism are widely available across every state. For instance, social services organizations like AutismOne, Autism Resources, and the Family Autism Network offer support groups in different locations throughout a state. These groups are oftentimes led by volunteers who want to create an inclusive and welcoming environment of support.

Vocational Services

There are many government-sponsored vocational services available to help autistic individuals obtain jobs and further their careers. Most states have departments or divisions of vocational rehabilitation services, which help people with autism and other disabilities reach the goals they've set for employment. The employees hired by these organizations don't ask people to pay them directly for this service.

Housing Services

If you just recently turned 18 or are considered middle-aged, among the most important aspects of adulthood is having the financial freedom required to rent an apartment or buy a home. Even high-functioning adults with autism can find it challenging to maintain housing.

There are, however, many workshops and education opportunities that autistic individuals can take part in if they want to explore their housing options. Nonprofit organizations that center around autism often help people find appropriate housing.

Financial Services

Among the most difficult aspects of navigating autism as an adult is performing financial planning and maintaining financial freedom. When children are diagnosed with autism, they can at least be supported by their parents until they've turned 18.

The same isn't true with adults. Just like all of the other support services mentioned in this guide, the various autism-based organizations in your state can help you find resources in the area that provide financial support or help you maintain your finances.


steven zauderer

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

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