Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Adults

Condition Basics

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder. It affects a person's behavior. And it makes communication and social interactions hard.

ASD can range from mild to severe. The type of symptoms a person has and how severe they are varies. Some adults who have ASD may not be able to function without a lot of help from parents and other caregivers. Others may learn social and verbal skills and be able to care for themselves.

Most people who have ASD will always have some trouble when they communicate or interact with others. But treatment for ASD has helped many people who have it to lead full lives.

ASD now includes conditions that used to be diagnosed separately. These include:

  • Autism.
  • Asperger's syndrome.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder.

You or your doctor might use any of these terms to describe the condition.

What causes it?

The exact cause of ASD isn't known. But many factors may be involved. A change in certain genes or an interaction of several genes may be responsible. And something in the environment may play a role in these gene changes. Studies show that vaccines don't cause ASD.footnote 1, footnote 2

What are the symptoms?

Adults with ASD have some symptoms in these areas:

Communication and social interactions.

Symptoms may include:

  • Problems using or responding to gestures or pointing, facial expressions, and body posture. And there may be problems making eye contact.
  • Problems making friends or dating. And there may be problems bonding with a child or partner. Or there may be problems working with colleagues.
  • Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others.
  • Problems starting a conversation.
Repetitive behaviors and limited interests in activities.

Symptoms may include:

  • Getting attached to objects or topics.
  • A strong need for sameness and routines.
  • Repetitive use of language. An adult with ASD may keep repeating a phrase they have heard.

How severe the symptoms are varies. Some symptoms, like repetitive behaviors, may get better over time.

How is it diagnosed?

ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood. That's when parents may notice developmental delays and behavior issues. But if a child's symptoms are mild or mistaken for another condition, ASD may not be noticed until later in life.

To diagnose ASD, the doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and past health.
  • Ask about your childhood development. The doctor may ask parents or siblings if, as a child, you had:
    • Any language delays.
    • Problems learning or interacting with others.
    • Any behaviors that seemed unusual.
  • Ask a partner, family member, or friend how you behave or interact with others at home and at work.
  • Ask if there's a family history of ASD.
  • Watch how you interact with others during your exam.

You may have other tests. These are to see if another problem is causing symptoms.

The doctor will use all of this information, along with their own judgment, to diagnose ASD.

How is ASD in adults treated?

Treatment may include:

Behavior and social skills training.

This can help you learn how to:

  • Get organized and manage your time.
  • Communicate better and speak up for yourself.
  • Learn skills needed to go to college or get a job.
  • Form and keep relationships.
Job skills training.

This can help you learn how to:

  • Prepare for interviews and help you learn other skills needed to find work.
  • Find a job that will focus on your strengths.
  • Talk to an employer about special needs you may have.

On-the-job training and coaching can help you to:

  • Get work experience.
  • Learn skills needed to get work done.
  • Set and achieve work goals.
Counseling.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy might be used to treat anxiety and depression.
  • Couples and family therapy can help improve relationships.
Medicines.

Medicines might be used to treat ASD symptoms. These include being cranky or hyperactive. Sometimes medicine is used to treat other problems, like anxiety and depression.

References

Citations

  1. Demicheli V, et al. (2012). Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004407.pub3. Accessed January 22, 2019.
  2. Smith T, et al. (2014). Alternative treatments. In FR Volkmar et al., eds., Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders, assessment, interventions, policy, the future: assessment, interventions, and policy, 4th ed., pp. 1051–1069. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com. Accessed January 11, 2019.

Credits

Current as of: June 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
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