Do Adults Suffer from Autism?
Autism is a generic name for a series of fundamental behavioral disorders, referred to as autistic spectrum disorders, mainly characterized by an impaired development in communication, social skills and interactions, and behavior. Although there is a common ground for the diagnosis of each individual suffering from autism, the manifestations can vary a great deal from person to person.
Also, the degree of the disorder ranges from mild to severe in terms of the affected individual’s intellect and ability to communicate in one way or another. Consequently, some patients may appear closer to normal standards, while others that are usually also subject to severe intellectual impairment cannot live independently or function normally under almost any circumstances.
Autism in Adults
Usually, autism is diagnosed around the age of three when children that seemed to have developed normally up until that moment show a regression or lack of further development regarding speech and social interactions. Early diagnosis gives the child a chance to undergo specialized management of his or her disorder in order to learn how to become, or how to be as close as possible to, an independent and functioning adult.
However, even if it is less common nowadays, mild cases of autism, or of autistic spectrum diseases, can go undiagnosed during childhood. This leads to cases of adult individuals that can receive a late diagnosis of autism. Often times, this is the case of adults that can perceive their lack of social adhesion or integration and who even manage to self-diagnose themselves before talking to a professional.
How does autism manifest?
There are two areas that are primarily affected by autism and they are communication and social interactions or social behavior. According to Professor Fred Volkmar of Yale University, 40% of the people diagnosed with autism never speak at all. And if they do speak, autistic people present difficulty in both understanding and engaging in verbal or nonverbal communication. They have a very hard time understanding another person’s perspective and do not comprehend language nuances, like humor or sarcasm. The speech of autistic people is characterized by repetitive words or phrases, things that they heard and they keep repeating aimlessly. In fact, their entire behavior is marked by repetitiveness and stereotypes.
People with autism tend to live through routines and they hardly accept change. They can focus on objects or parts of objects and get absorbed into their observation for hours, ignoring the world around them. People with autism are not capable of empathy, they cannot understand other people’s feelings and they show lack of interest in any kind of social interactions or activities. This is why these people fail in establishing friendships with others or any sort of relationships, as a matter of fact.
How to diagnose autism in adults?
Diagnosing autism in an adult can be quite challenging. If there are reasons to believe that one might be affected by this condition, the first thing to do is speaking to a general practitioner. Upon presenting your case, there are certain guidelines that a GP has to follow, including giving you a referral to a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.
The best thing to do is making sure that the professional you are seeing has experience in dealing with this kind of cases as a diagnosis of autism (or the lack of it) could have a great impact on one’s life. The consultation usually consists of a series of questions, including the childhood developmental history. The diagnosis is clinical and does not include any physical examination. Of course, you can always ask for a second opinion if you are not satisfied with the way the diagnostician handled your case.
How to live with autism (or how to improve this condition)
If a diagnosis of autism is established for an adult, the diagnostician usually also offers options for support and treatment. At this moment, there is no known cure for autism or autistic specter diseases, but there is one approach that seems to be having the best results: enrolling in specific educational programs suitable for the individual’s level of performance. There are many organizations that offer such programs, helping people with autism learn how to communicate and socially interact with others.
Many people suffering from autism show interest and talent in specific fields, such as mathematics, physics, music, and so on. Giving these individuals access to the suitable educational and vocational programs for their capacities can lead to spectacular results. But apart from teaching people with autism how to use language and how to interact, or how to use their talent or potential, the most important thing achieved through these specific programs is teaching these people how to handle day to day tasks in order to improve their functioning and level of independence.
A big part of the adults with autism need supervision, especially those that do not speak or have a low intellect. However, a study published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 revealed that, with the proper training, over 30% of the adults diagnosed with autism are able to live at least partially independent.
Of course, research and advances are still being made regarding the best psychotherapeutic approaches and treatment options for people with autism, but even if promising results are already being achieved, people must accept and understand that autism is a life-long condition that cannot be cured, but that can be improved with the proper care and support.