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Who Can Expertly Diagnose Autism in Adults?

Discover who is qualified to diagnose autism in adults, understand the process, and find the right guide.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
May 1, 2024
8 min read
min read

Diagnosing Autism in Adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects individuals across ages. While it is often diagnosed in childhood, it is not uncommon for adults to discover they have autism. This section will discuss the importance of an autism diagnosis and how to start the diagnostic process.

Importance of Autism Diagnosis

Obtaining an autism diagnosis as an adult can be a crucial step in understanding one's unique needs and strengths. It allows individuals to access necessary support and resources, including therapy, counseling, and social services. A diagnosis can also provide validation, helping individuals understand their experiences better and fostering self-acceptance.

Starting the Diagnostic Process

The first step in diagnosing autism in adults is to find a health professional who is well-versed in ASD. This is often a challenging task as many autistic individuals know too well. It typically involves finding an expert, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist, specializing in diagnosing ASD.

Consider focusing on adult psychologists, as they receive more clinical training and exposure to conditions with early childhood onsets, which is essential for diagnosing ASD in adults. The chosen provider should ideally have some form of training in diagnosing ASD. While there is no specific certificate that qualifies experts to diagnose adult autism, they need clinical training with other autism experts and must utilize reliable diagnostic tools that research supports as being effective in making an autism diagnosis.

Official autism diagnosis in adults is usually completed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with specialized training in autism evaluations. However, due to barriers in accessing autism evaluations, some adults in the autistic community opt for self-diagnosing or self-identifying with autism based on their own research and identification with autism symptoms.

Starting the diagnostic process involves self-reflection, gathering evidence of symptoms, and seeking help from a qualified professional. It's a journey towards understanding and embracing one's individuality, with the ultimate goal of enhancing quality of life.

Finding Qualified Providers

When seeking a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in adults, finding a qualified provider is crucial. The provider must have expertise in diagnosing ASD and have undergone the necessary training to reliably identify the condition.

Expertise of the Providers

Given the complexities involved in diagnosing autism in adults, it is essential to seek an expert - typically a psychologist or a psychiatrist - who specializes in diagnosing ASD. These experts have more clinical training and exposure to conditions with early childhood onsets, which is essential for diagnosing ASD in adults [2].

Notably, an official diagnosis of autism in adults is usually completed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with specialized training in autism evaluations.

Doctors and psychologists diagnose autism in adults by analyzing the patient's history and observing their behavior, as there is no blood analysis, brain scan, or other test that can diagnose autism.

Training Requirements

The provider chosen to diagnose adult autism should have some form of training in how to diagnose ASD. While there is no specific certificate that qualifies experts to diagnose adult autism, they need clinical training with other autism experts and must utilize reliable diagnostic tools that research supports as being effective in making an autism diagnosis.

Developmental Pediatricians, also known as Developmental-Behavioral Pediatricians, are also qualified to diagnose autism and other developmental difficulties. They consider the medical and psychosocial elements of children's behavior problems and provide counsel and treatment accordingly.

Ultimately, the qualifications and expertise of the provider are crucial when seeking a diagnosis for adult autism, and it's important to find a provider who has the necessary training and experience to accurately diagnose and treat this condition.

Diagnosis Process

Understanding the process of autism diagnosis in adults can help individuals navigate the journey more readily. This section covers the official diagnosis, potential challenges in diagnosing autism in adults, and considerations when thinking about self-diagnosis.

Official Diagnosis

An official diagnosis of autism in adults is usually completed by a psychologist or psychiatrist with specialized training in autism evaluations. Doctors and psychologists diagnose autism in adults by analyzing the patient's history and monitoring their behavior. There is no blood analysis, brain scan, or other test that can diagnose autism. The professional who is qualified to diagnose autism in adults should have some form of training in how to diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Challenges in Diagnosis

Diagnosing autism in adults presents unique challenges. Many measures developed to evaluate symptoms of autism focus on early childhood and are not normed for adults, making it harder to diagnose autism in adults. False negatives in autism diagnoses for adults are common due to assessments not accounting for masking or the varied presentations of autism, leading to misdiagnoses or missed diagnoses.

Self-Diagnosis Considerations

Due to barriers in accessing autism evaluations, many adults in the autistic community opt for self-diagnosing or self-identifying with autism based on their own research and identification with autism symptoms. Adults who suspect they or a loved one might be autistic can take a self-assessment test for adults. While these tests cannot give a diagnosis, they are a good starting point. A person can take the results of such a test to a primary care doctor who will try to determine whether ASD may be present.

However, it's important to remember that self-diagnosis is not a replacement for a professional evaluation. If self-assessment tests indicate a likelihood of autism, it's advisable to speak to a health professional, such as a general practitioner, to start the official diagnostic process.

Diagnostic Tools

Identifying the right diagnostic tools is a key part of understanding who is qualified to diagnose autism in adults. There are several tools available for clinicians to use, each with their own strengths and potential drawbacks.

Assessing Autism

Doctors and psychologists diagnose autism in adults by analyzing the patient's history and monitoring their behavior. There is no blood analysis, brain scan, or other test that can diagnose autism. The diagnosis process relies heavily on the expert's understanding of the condition and their ability to accurately interpret the patient's behaviors and symptoms.

One valuable tool for assessing Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) in adults, even when there are co-occurring mental health conditions, is the Developmental, Dimensional and Diagnostic Interview—Adult Version (3Di-Adult). This is a brief, informant-report interview for assessing autism spectrum conditions (ASC) in adults based on DSM-5 criteria. It has been shown to have high internal consistency (αs ≥ 0.93) and inter-rater agreement (ICCs ≥ 0.99), and is a time-efficient interview that takes approximately 38 minutes to administer.

The 3Di-Adult demonstrates excellent sensitivity (95%) and specificity (92%) when discriminating ASC from non-ASC. It shows promise as a reliable and valid tool for collecting standardized informant reports for DSM-5 assessments of ASC in adults. It can be administered relatively quickly and is suitable for use in general adult mental health settings to inform clinicians whether a referral for specialist ASC assessment is required. It also has potential applications in research settings for making or confirming ASC diagnoses.

Gold Standard Diagnostic Tool

While there are many tools available for diagnosing ASC in adults, the gold standard diagnostic assessment tool for autism is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2). However, it's important to note that diagnostic procedures do not always align with the preferences of the autistic community or the neurodiversity paradigm.

The ADOS-2 is widely recognized for its comprehensive assessment of the individual's behavior and communication. Despite being a gold standard, it is not without its limitations and should be used in conjunction with other tools and assessments to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

In conclusion, numerous tools are available for assessing autism in adults, but choosing the right one depends on the individual's symptoms, history, and the expertise of the diagnosing clinician.

Seeking Diagnosis

For adults who suspect they might be on the autism spectrum, the path to diagnosis can be complex. However, two important steps towards a potential diagnosis include initial self-assessment tests and finding a qualified specialist.

Self-Assessment Tests

Self-assessment tests for adults can serve as useful preliminary tools when seeking an autism diagnosis. These tests, while not definitive, can offer valuable insight into whether an individual exhibits traits consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) [5].

It's important to remember that these tests cannot provide a formal diagnosis. However, the results can be a useful starting point in the diagnostic process. A person can share these results with a primary care provider, who can then help determine whether ASD might be present.

Due to barriers in accessing formal autism evaluations, many adults in the autistic community opt for self-diagnosing or self-identifying with autism based on their own research and identification with autism symptoms.

Finding a Specialist

A critical step in obtaining a formal autism diagnosis is consulting with a qualified specialist. Professionals who can diagnose autism in adults include psychologists and developmental pediatricians who specialize in developmental-behavioral issues.

The diagnosis process typically involves analyzing the patient's history and observing their behavior, as there are no blood tests or brain scans that can definitively diagnose autism.

Adults diagnosed with autism are often at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, now referred to as autism with low support needs, or "level 1" autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

It's crucial to find a specialist who is not only qualified to diagnose autism in adults, but also has a deep understanding of the spectrum of autism, including high-functioning autism. This ensures a comprehensive and accurate diagnosis, which is critical for developing an effective treatment and support plan.

Special Considerations

When seeking a diagnosis of autism in adults, there are certain special considerations to keep in mind. These relate to high-functioning autism and co-existing conditions.

High-Functioning Autism

Adults diagnosed with autism are likely to be at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, now referred to as autism with low support needs. This is known as "level 1" autism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Some autistic adults experience high intelligence, strong memory, an ability to think “outside the box,” and strong knowledge in particular areas. Other traits can include being observant, resilient, and having a strong sense of fairness and justice.

However, it's important to note that many traits related to autism can be hidden or managed by adults, particularly those with low support needs, making self-diagnosis difficult. This emphasizes the importance of seeking evaluation from a professional who is qualified to diagnose autism in adults.

Co-Existing Conditions

Autism often coexists with other conditions. For instance, symptoms of an anxiety disorder often coexist in autistic individuals, especially common in biological women and girls, whose ASD may be overlooked or misdiagnosed before a proper diagnosis is determined.

In addition, autism can easily be mistaken for social communication disorder (SCD), highlighting the importance of a comprehensive assessment by a mental health professional to differentiate between various disorders [7].

These special considerations underscore the complexities of diagnosing autism in adults. It is crucial to seek the help of a professional with expertise in adult autism diagnosis, who can navigate these intricacies and provide the most accurate diagnosis.

References

[1]: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/signs/adults/

[2]: https://www.additudemag.com/how-to-get-tested-for-autism-adult-diagnosis/

[3]: https://www.verywellmind.com/who-can-diagnose-autism-in-adults-6748943

[4]: https://www.tpathways.org/faqs/who-can-diagnose-autism/

[5]: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326841

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5807495/

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

steven zauderer

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

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