Autism signs and characteristics: checklist for adults
If you think you may be on the autism spectrum; or you know, love, or work with an adult who you feel might have autism, the following information will help you to better understand the common signs and characteristics relating to adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Many adults may demonstrate the signs or characteristics of autism, but may not have been assessed or diagnosed for a number of reasons, these could include:
- The signs or characteristics are not obvious to those around them.
- People around them are not aware of the signs or characteristics of autism.
- The signs and characteristics do not have a significant impact on the individual, or limit their everyday functioning.
- The person has learnt strategies to support their challenges including masking or camouflaging signs.
- The financial and emotional cost of an assessment.
- Another diagnosis that could account for some of the signs and characteristics demonstrated
- The person self-identifies as autistic, but does not see the benefits of having a formal assessment
- The person does not want a formal diagnosis.
Many adults who demonstrate the behaviours of autism, and are not formally diagnosed, learn to cope with life perfectly well. They might develop meaningful relationships, have satisfying careers, or live an excellent quality of life that satisfies them.
However, many adults that demonstrate the behaviours of autism, and are not formally diagnosed, may also find life difficult, isolating, or a bit of a struggle in some areas.
They may develop the feeling that “everyone else is different” and may find it hard to form meaningful relationships, or have satisfying careers, despite wanting these things. This can have an impact on their mental health, physical health, and wellbeing.
Signs and characteristics checklist
If you’re reading this page, you may be thinking that you, your partner, or someone you know or love is showing some of the signs or characteristics of autism.
These signs cover a range of human behaviour; from social communication and social interaction, to restricted, repetitive and sensory processing.
Note that the information below is just a list of some of the common signs and characteristics of autism.
It is unlikely that an adult will display all of these characteristics, and it’s important to remember, only a qualified professional can carry out an assessment for autism.
Some of the characteristics that adults with an autism diagnosis commonly report, include:
- Find joining in conversation difficult.
- Speak in a flat, monotone voice, or not speak.
- Have trouble relating to other people’s thoughts or emotions.
- Use repetitive language.
- Find it hard to read someone’s body language and emotions.
- Find that others don’t understand how you are feeling and say that “it is hard to know what you are thinking”.
- Dominate conversations and provide excessive information on the specific topics you are interested in.
- Find it easier to talk ‘at’ people, rather than engaging in a two-way conversation.
- Have trouble reading social cues.
- Find ‘small talk’ such as talking about the weather and what others are doing difficult.
- Take things literally. For example, if someone says ‘oh that’s a piece of cake’ or ‘you’re barking up the wrong tree’ you find it difficult to know what they mean.
- Be blunt in your assessment of people and things.
- Find it difficult to maintain eye contact when you are talking to someone.
- Have your own unique phrases and descriptive words.
- Find building and maintaining close friendships and relationships difficult.
- You may make faces that others find unusual.
- You may make gestures when speaking with people.
- You enjoy consistent routine and schedules and get upset or anxious should that routine or schedule be changed.
- You find it upsetting when something happens that you did not expect to happen.
- Have trouble regulating your emotional responses.
- Are bothered if your things are moved or rearranged by someone.
- Have a series of repetitive rituals or behaviours that you follow on a daily basis.
- You make noises in places where you are expected to be quiet.
- Preference for highly specific interests or hobbies that you spend a lot of time on.
- Have difficulty multi-tasking.
- Have a very strong reaction or no reaction at all to sensory stimuli, such as textures, sounds, smells and taste.
- Like operating solo – both at work and play.
How do these characteristics or traits play out in adult life? Sometimes well, and sometimes not so well.
For some people, the signs and characteristics of autism will impact life positively.
This might include:
- Excelling in a chosen area of study, or a chosen career.
- Noticing details in the environment that others miss.
- Having increased empathy or immense care for people or animals.
- Enjoying working independently.
What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool? You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.
On the other hand, according to the National Guideline for the Assessment and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Australia, adults on the spectrum may find they have:
- Problems in obtaining, regularly attending or sustaining employment or education.
- Difficulties in initiating or sustaining social relationships.
- Previous or current contact with mental health or learning disability services.
- A history of a neuro-developmental conditions (including learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or psychiatric difficulties.
It’s important to note that each person’s experience of autism is different – and no two people on the spectrum will have exactly the same set of signs and characteristics.
Some adults on the spectrum will experience symptoms that result in challenges in everyday life. Others on the spectrum may simply feel like something is different about them from the next person. Chances are, they may have felt that way since childhood but haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why. Or, they may not notice that they feel or behave differently than others.
Should an adult pursue an autism diagnosis?
If you think you have some of the signs and characteristics of autism, you might question why you would consider getting assessed at this stage in your life? At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer to this question, it is a personal question.
What are some of the benefits of getting a diagnosis?
- Getting a professional diagnosis may help you to receive any appropriate funding, support and help you might need.
- Your family, friends and work colleagues (if you choose to tell them) may have a better understanding of you and your needs – and it may allow them to support you more effectively.
- You may have a greater sense of self-identify if you understand yourself – and the spectrum – better.
- You may have a better understanding of your experiences as a child or adolescent.
- You may have increased confidence knowing you are part of a larger group of adults that may be like-minded.
Some adults find that by having a better understanding of the challenges associated with autism, they can use their strengths and develop strategies to support these.
Fast fact: Did you know that people on the spectrum commonly show character strengths such as loyalty, kindness, honesty and a lack of judgement?
Seeking a diagnostic assessment
You’ve decided to seek an assessment to determine if you or an adult you love has autism, so, what are the next steps?
Assessments for adults involve appropriately qualified health professionals gathering and considering a range of developmental, historical and current information against the criteria for autism.
To seek an assessment for autism, you have a couple of options:
- Contact your state or territory autism association for information about assessments.
- Talk to a qualified health professional with experience in the assessment and diagnosis of autism.
- Make an appointment with your GP to discuss and possibly to refer you to a qualified health professional with experience in the assessment and diagnosis of autism.
- Refer yourself for an assessment.
There are a number of government-funded services that specialise in the assessment and diagnosis of autism. You can contact these teams directly, but you may need a referral from your GP or paediatrician.
There are also private practitioners and organisations that conduct assessments on a fee-paying basis. These services can be accessed via a referral from a health care professional, or can be referred to directly.
You can learn more at Getting a diagnosis for adults (over 18).