Adult Autism

Over the last 20 years there has been an increasing awareness of milder forms of autism. Only those with severe challenges, such as also having an intellectual disability, were usually identified before this time as having autism.  This means that there is likely a ‘missing generation’ of adults, who have milder autism but were never identified in childhood. If your childhood was in the 80s or 90s or earlier, you may have been very unlikely to be identified as autistic if you were on the milder side of the spectrum. There was also much less awareness of autism back then by teachers, clinicians and the general public. 

Many adults are now seeking an adult autism assessment. Sometimes they have their own children who have been diagnosed with autism. They usually have normal to high IQs and have learnt ways to compensate for some of their social challenges. They may frequently experience challenges with anxiety, depression, stress, overwhelm, burnout and have ongoing interpersonal relationships difficulties and feel like they don’t always fit in.

An adult autism diagnosis can help individuals understand why they have had lifelong challenges that have been difficult to explain, and why they might show a pattern of doing well in some areas but finding other areas of life challenging. Beyond understanding, adults can learn strategies to help them manage at times when they feel overwhelmed, learn ways to modify the environment around them so they can function optimally and improve their social relationships.

Adult autism assessments can be challenging as childhood information needs to be recalled and it may be many years past. Ideally parents are interviewed so they can report on the individuals childhood development. Adult autism assessment instruments are arguably less valid and reliable than childhood assessment tools as they are newer and are less well researched. As such clinician’s require experience in a broad range of adult psychiatric conditions. There are many alternative diagnoses to explore which can look similar to autism. These include obsessive compulsive type problems, social anxiety, personality disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, trauma and schizophrenia spectrum disorders to name a few. I have recently published an article in Good Autism Practice on this topic: Diagnosis of autism in older women.

If you think you might have autism and would like to find out more about an assessment please contact Tamara. Adult autism assessments usually take around 4 sessions and involve completing questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and assessments.

Read Tamara’s latest article in The Conversation: Autism is still underdiagnosed in girls and women