Maybe you have a spouse who brings up frustrations they have that seem to always involve how you misunderstand things they say or ask of you. Possibly you have wondered why you have a hard time keeping friendships for more than a short time. Or, perhaps your child was recently evaluated and diagnosed with autism and many of the things the doctor pointed to are true in your life as well. Whatever brought you to this question, now is probably a time of uncertainty or confusion and you are wondering if it’s possible that you are autistic.
Have you experienced?
The criteria of autism spectrum disorder (aka ASD, autism, etc.) can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), but it’s not always easy to see yourself in the clinical language that’s used to describe autism. Instead, it can be easier to think about the areas of life that autistic adults might find more challenging than neurotypical adults. Have you experienced relationship difficulties with a partner or with friends that never seem to be resolved? Do others make jokes you don’t understand or make comments that have hidden meanings that seem to escape you? You and your partner may be trying to work out difficulties in your relationship but they repeatedly tell you how frustrated they are that you always seem to be having the same conversation about how you forget to communicate with them or share your feelings. It may be frustrating for you to understand how other people are feeling because you aren’t sure how to respond in a way that doesn’t upset them or confuse them. Or perhaps you feel a hum of anxiety in your body throughout the day and spend much of your time thinking about how to respond in a work conversation, in a meeting, or when your spouse asks you to tell them about your day. These can all be common experiences of an autistic person.
Below are some other common features of autism in adults. It’s important to remember when thinking about symptoms that autism is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means that symptoms associated with it have to be present one’s entire life. This list is not diagnostic, but rather a list of ways adults with autism can act or common areas they tend to have more difficulty.
Adults with autism may have…
- Difficulty with social interactions, small talk, or brief introductions at a party
- High levels of anxiety about socially rich activities like parties, work meetings, or discussions with a spouse
- Rigid or inflexible adherence to rules or strict self-created guidelines for a variety of things around the house
- Trouble viewing concepts in shades of grey or with “a grain of salt”
- More difficult time than others in taking another person’s perspective
- A difficult time understanding or interpreting sarcasm or when someone makes a comment that has a hidden or alternate meaning
- A strong preference for non-verbal communication styles such as text and email
- Challenges with regulating emotions, especially big ones like anger, frustration, and excitement
- A struggle to read the emotional state of others and know how to respond “the right way”
- Strong preferences for daily routines and difficulty adjusting when changes to those routines are needed unexpectedly
- A need for order, cleanliness, organization, and structure
- A special interest or loving what you do at work so much that it preoccupies much of your time, energy, and conversations
- Lack of inflection or showing of your internal emotional state when speaking or discomfort with direct eye contact, especially when anxious or overwhelmed
- Hypersensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, and smells
- Clumsiness or poor coordination
It may be that despite trying to work on some of these things or perhaps after having the same conversations with your family or partner about how you struggle, you still feel confused and are struggling to find a solution. It may feel like you’re always doing something wrong or not enough and the important people in your life are finding it hard to know how to explain what they need in a way that you understand. It may not be at all that you “don’t get it” or “never listen” or “never share your emotions.” Instead, it may be that you do those things differently or process things in a different way and you and your family need some help figuring out new ways to think about or approach things. In fact, it may be that you are experiencing symptoms on the spectrum of autism and never knew it. Therapy with a clinician experienced working with and supporting individuals with neurodiversity, like autism, can be a great place to start your journey of learning new skills or gaining more understanding about your experiences.