What is Autism Like in Adults?

While many people associate autism with children, it is important to understand that adults can also be diagnosed with autism. In this article, we will explore what autism is like in adults, including how it can affect their daily lives.

reuben kesherim
Published By Ruben Kesherim
February 8, 2024

What is Autism Like in Adults?

Understanding Autism in Adults

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals across their lifespan. While commonly associated with childhood, autism can persist into adulthood, presenting unique challenges and characteristics. Understanding autism in adults is crucial for providing the necessary support and resources.

Introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and restricted or repetitive behaviors. It is considered a spectrum disorder because it varies widely in its presentation and severity among individuals.

ASD affects how individuals perceive and process information, interact with others, and navigate their environment. It is important to note that autism is not a disease or a result of poor parenting; it is a neurological difference that influences the way individuals experience the world.

Autism in Adulthood: An Overview

Autism in adulthood presents unique challenges and opportunities for personal growth and development. While some individuals are diagnosed with autism during childhood, others may receive a diagnosis later in life. It is not uncommon for adults to go undiagnosed until they seek an evaluation due to difficulties they may be facing.

In adulthood, individuals with autism may continue to experience challenges in communication and social interaction. They may struggle with understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversation.

Additionally, adults on the autism spectrum may exhibit restricted and repetitive behaviors, such as adhering to strict routines or having intense interests in specific topics.

It is important to recognize that autism in adults can vary widely. Some individuals may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may be highly independent and successful in their chosen endeavors. Each person's experience with autism is unique, and it is essential to approach them with respect, understanding, and individualized support.

By gaining a better understanding of autism in adults, we can promote inclusivity, create supportive environments, and provide appropriate resources and services to help individuals on the spectrum thrive.

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Common Symptoms of Autism in Adults

When it comes to autism in adults, there are several common symptoms that may be present. These symptoms can vary in severity and may manifest differently in each individual.

It's important to note that not all adults with autism will experience the same symptoms, and some may exhibit additional behaviors or challenges. In this section, we will explore three key areas of symptoms commonly observed in adults with autism: challenges in communication and social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities.

Challenges in Communication and Social Interaction

One of the hallmark symptoms of autism in adults is difficulty in communication and social interaction. Adults with autism may struggle with understanding and using verbal and nonverbal cues, making it challenging to engage in conversations or maintain relationships. They may have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, which can lead to misunderstandings or social awkwardness.

Challenges in Communication and Social Interaction

  • Difficulty understanding verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Challenges with initiating or maintaining conversations
  • Limited eye contact
  • Difficulty understanding figurative language or sarcasm
  • Trouble forming and maintaining relationships

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

Another common symptom of autism in adults is the presence of restricted and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors are often characterized by strict routines, repetitive movements, and a strong preference for sameness.

Adults with autism may engage in repetitive actions such as hand-flapping, rocking, or lining up objects. They may also have a strong attachment to specific interests or topics, often displaying extensive knowledge in these areas.

Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors

  • Engaging in repetitive movements or actions (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking)
  • Adhering to strict routines and rituals
  • Displaying intense interests in specific topics
  • Resistance to change or difficulty adapting to new situations
  • Sensitivity to disruptions in routine

Sensory Sensitivities

Sensory sensitivities are another common aspect of autism in adults. Individuals with autism may have heightened or decreased sensory responses to various stimuli, such as sound, light, touch, taste, or smell.

This can lead to overstimulation or sensory overload in certain environments. They may seek or avoid certain sensory experiences, such as covering their ears in noisy environments or avoiding certain textures of clothing.

Sensory Sensitivities

  • Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input
  • Overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells
  • Sensitivity to certain textures or clothing
  • Sensory-seeking behaviors (e.g., rocking, spinning)
  • Difficulty filtering out irrelevant sensory information

Understanding these common symptoms of autism in adults is essential for recognizing and supporting individuals who may be on the autism spectrum. It's important to remember that each person's experience with autism is unique, and the severity of symptoms can vary. By promoting awareness and understanding, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for adults with autism.

Masking and Camouflaging

Understanding the concept of masking is crucial to uncovering autism symptoms in adults. Masking refers to the act of consciously or unconsciously hiding or suppressing autistic traits and behaviors in order to fit into social norms and expectations. It is a coping mechanism that many individuals with autism develop to navigate social situations and camouflage their differences.

What is Masking?

Masking involves imitating or mimicking neurotypical behaviors, such as making eye contact, maintaining conversation, and suppressing repetitive movements or stims. It can be an exhausting process that requires constant monitoring and adjustment, as individuals with autism work hard to blend in and appear "typical."

Masking may manifest differently in each individual. Some individuals may become highly skilled at masking, to the point where their autism symptoms are not readily apparent to others. However, this can lead to a significant internal struggle, as the effort to mask can be overwhelming and cause mental and emotional strain.

The Impact of Masking on Autism Diagnosis in Adults

Masking can significantly impact the diagnosis of autism in adults. Many adults who are diagnosed with autism later in life have spent years perfecting the art of masking, which can make it difficult for professionals to recognize and identify their autistic traits. As a result, many individuals may go undiagnosed or receive a misdiagnosis until later in adulthood.

The ability to mask can also lead to feelings of isolation and confusion. Adults who have successfully masked their autism may struggle to understand why they feel different from their peers, despite their efforts to fit in. This can create a sense of internal conflict and hinder their ability to seek appropriate support and accommodations.

Signs of Masking in Adults

Recognizing signs of masking in adults can help identify individuals who may be on the autism spectrum. Some common indicators of masking include:

  • Social mimicry: Individuals may imitate the social behavior of others, copying their gestures, speech patterns, or interests, in an attempt to blend in.
  • Exhaustion and burnout: The constant effort to mask can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion, resulting in higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Masking inconsistencies: Despite appearing typical in certain situations, individuals may exhibit more pronounced autistic traits when they feel relaxed, comfortable, or are in a familiar environment.
  • Difficulties with self-identity: Adults who have masked their autism for a long time may struggle with understanding their own identity, feeling disconnected from their true selves.

Recognizing masking as a common phenomenon in adults with autism is crucial for understanding the unique challenges they face. By acknowledging and validating the experiences of individuals who mask, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment that allows them to embrace their authentic selves.

Late Diagnosis of Autism in Adults

While autism is typically diagnosed during childhood, many individuals go undiagnosed until adulthood. Late diagnosis of autism in adults can be attributed to several reasons and poses unique challenges for those affected. However, seeking diagnosis and support can lead to a better understanding of oneself and the development of effective coping strategies.

Reasons for Late Diagnosis

There are various factors that contribute to the late diagnosis of autism in adults. Some of the common reasons include:

  1. Milder Symptoms: In some cases, individuals may exhibit milder symptoms of autism, making it less apparent during childhood. As a result, the condition may go undetected until adulthood when the challenges become more pronounced.
  2. Masking and Camouflaging: Many individuals with autism develop coping mechanisms, such as masking and camouflaging, to fit into social situations. These strategies can mask the characteristic symptoms of autism, making it difficult for others, including professionals, to recognize the underlying condition.
  3. Misdiagnosis or Co-occurring Conditions: Autism symptoms can overlap with other mental health conditions, leading to misdiagnosis or the focus on treating co-occurring conditions rather than underlying autism. This can delay the identification of autism in adults.

Challenges Faced by Adults with Undiagnosed Autism

Adults with undiagnosed autism face a range of challenges that can impact their daily lives and overall well-being. Some of the common challenges include:

  1. Social Difficulties: Adults with undiagnosed autism often struggle with social interactions and forming meaningful relationships. They may find it challenging to understand social cues, maintain conversations, or interpret non-verbal communication.
  2. Employment and Education: Undiagnosed individuals may face difficulties in academic or professional settings due to challenges with organization, time management, and task completion. These difficulties can impact their career prospects and personal fulfillment.
  3. Mental Health Issues: The ongoing challenges faced by undiagnosed adults with autism can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Without understanding the underlying cause of their difficulties, they may struggle to manage their mental health effectively.

Seeking Diagnosis and Support

Obtaining a formal diagnosis of autism in adulthood can be a transformative experience. It provides individuals with a deeper understanding of themselves and their unique strengths and challenges. Additionally, a diagnosis can open the door to accessing valuable support and resources.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be on the autism spectrum, it is important to seek a comprehensive evaluation from a qualified professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in autism. They will assess the individual's behavioral patterns, social interactions, and communication skills to determine if autism is present.

Once an adult receives a diagnosis, they can access various forms of support, including therapy, support groups, and educational resources tailored to their specific needs. Additionally, understanding one's autism can empower individuals to develop effective coping strategies and advocate for accommodations in various aspects of their lives.

Late diagnosis should be seen as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. With the right support and understanding, individuals with autism can navigate their daily lives more effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

Managing Autism Symptoms in Adulthood

For adults with autism, managing symptoms and developing strategies to navigate daily life can be essential for overall well-being and successful social integration. Here are some strategies and techniques that can help adults with autism effectively manage their symptoms.

Strategies for Communication and Social Interaction

Communication and social interaction can present challenges for adults with autism. However, with the right strategies, individuals can enhance their communication skills and foster meaningful connections with others.

Strategies for Communication:

  • Use visual aids: Utilize visual supports such as social stories, visual schedules, and picture cards to enhance understanding and facilitate communication.
  • Practice active listening: Encourage active listening by maintaining eye contact, using non-verbal cues, and summarizing or repeating information to ensure comprehension.
  • Develop social scripts: Create and rehearse social scripts for common social situations to facilitate smoother interactions.
  • Seek social skills training: Participate in social skills training programs or therapy sessions to learn and practice appropriate social behaviors and cues.

Sensory Management Techniques

Sensory sensitivities are common among individuals with autism. Employing sensory management techniques can help reduce sensory overload and promote a more comfortable environment.

Sensory Management Techniques:

  • Create a sensory-friendly environment: Designate a quiet and calm space at home or work where sensory stimulation is minimized.
  • Utilize sensory tools: Use sensory tools like fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, or weighted blankets to provide comfort and regulate sensory input.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Incorporate relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, or mindfulness practices to manage stress and sensory overload.

Seeking Professional Support and Therapies

Professional support and therapies can play a crucial role in managing autism symptoms in adulthood. Seeking assistance from trained professionals can provide individuals with the necessary tools and strategies to navigate various aspects of life.

Therapies and Support:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): A therapy that focuses on improving social skills, communication, and behavior through positive reinforcement and structured interventions.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of therapy that helps individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors, promoting adaptive coping strategies.
  • Occupational Therapy (OT): Occupational therapists can assist with developing skills related to daily living, sensory integration, and fine motor coordination.

It is important to remember that every individual with autism is unique, and strategies that work for one person may not work for another. It is recommended to consult with healthcare professionals or autism specialists who can provide personalized guidance and support.

By implementing communication strategies, sensory management techniques, and seeking professional assistance, adults with autism can effectively manage their symptoms and enhance their overall quality of life.


Can adults with autism have successful careers?

Absolutely! Many individuals with autism have successful careers, particularly in fields that align with their interests and strengths. However, they may require accommodations or support to succeed in the workplace.

Is it possible for adults with autism to live independently?

Yes, many adults with autism are able to live independently. However, they may require support or accommodations to do so. For example, they may benefit from living in a structured environment or having a caregiver assist them with daily tasks.

Can adults with autism form romantic relationships?

Yes, individuals with autism can certainly form romantic relationships. However, they may need support or guidance when it comes to social cues and communication.

Are there any famous people who have autism?

Yes, there are many famous people who have been diagnosed with autism. Some examples include Dan Aykroyd, Daryl Hannah, and Temple Grandin.

It's important to remember that every individual is unique and experiences autism differently. If you have questions about what it's like to have autism as an adult, consider speaking with a healthcare professional or someone who has experience working with individuals on the spectrum.


In conclusion, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect individuals in a variety of ways. While autism is often diagnosed in childhood, adults can also be diagnosed with autism.

Autism can impact daily life in a variety of ways, and it is important for individuals with autism to have access to resources and support. With the right treatment and support, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling and happy lives.