Autism in Adults: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Resources (2023)

According to the DSM-5, autism is characterized by:

  • difficulty communicating and interacting with others
  • repetitive behaviors and a narrow set of interests
  • symptoms that affect quality of life and functioning in areas like work and school

No two autistic people have the exact same set of symptoms. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is referred to as a spectrum because of the variety of its signs and symptoms, and the different impacts and support needs that people may experience.

Some autistic people experience symptoms that can make daily life difficult without appropriate therapies and supports.

Others who have lower support needs (sometimes referred to “high-functioning”) may simply feel like something is “different” about them. They might have felt that way since childhood but haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why.

Similarly, they may not notice that they feel or behave differently, but others around them may notice that they behave or act differently.

While autism is most often diagnosed in toddlers, it’s possible for autistic adults to go undiagnosed.

If you think you may be on the autism spectrum, this article will explain common traits associated with ASD, as well as diagnosis and support options.

Signs of autism with lower support needs in adults

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Most of the time, prominent symptoms of ASD are diagnosed in young children around toddler age.

If you’re an adult who hasn’t been diagnosed with autism, but you believe you may be on the spectrum, it’s possible that you may be considered autistic with lower support needs. In the past, this has been referred to as “high-functioning” autism.

Following are signs of autism in adults:

Social communication behaviors

  • You have trouble reading social cues.
  • Participating in conversation is difficult.
  • You have trouble relating to others’ thoughts or feelings.
  • You’re unable to read body language and facial expressions well. (You might not be able to tell whether someone is pleased or unhappy with you.)
  • You use flat, monotone, or robotic speaking patterns that don’t communicate what you’re feeling.
  • You invent your own descriptive words and phrases.
  • Understanding figures of speech and turns of phrase (like “The early bird catches the worm” or “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”) is difficult.
  • You don’t like to look at someone’s eyes when talking to them.
  • You talk in the same patterns and tone whether you’re at home, with friends, or at work.
  • You talk a lot about one or two favorite topics.
  • You make noises in places where quiet is expected.
  • Building and maintaining close friendships is difficult.

Restrictive and repetitive behaviors

  • You have trouble regulating your emotions and your responses to them.
  • Changes in routines and expectations cause strong feelings that may include outbursts or meltdowns.
  • When something unexpected happens, you respond with an emotional meltdown.
  • You get upset when your things are moved or rearranged.
  • You have rigid routines, schedules, and daily patterns that must be maintained no matter what.
  • You have repetitive behaviors and rituals.

Other signs

  • You care deeply and are knowledgeable about a few specific areas of interest (like a historical period, book series, film, industry, hobby, or field of study).
  • You are very successful in one or two challenging academic subject areas. Some autistic people may do very well in some areas while also having great difficulty doing well in others.
  • You are very sensitive to sensory input (like pain, sound, touch, or smell), or you are much less sensitive to these things than other people.
  • You feel like you’re clumsy or have difficulty with coordination.
  • You prefer to work and play by yourself, rather than with others.
  • Others perceive you as eccentric or an academic.
  • You are able to learn complex details and remember them for long periods of time.
  • You learn well visually or by listening.

There are currently no ASD diagnostic criteria specifically for adults. But the current DSM-5 criteria can be adapted and used for this age group.

Clinicians primarily diagnose adults with ASD through a series of in-person observations and interactions. They also take into consideration any symptoms the person reports experiencing.

If you’re interested in being evaluated for ASD, begin with your family doctor, who will evaluate you to be certain that there is no underlying physical illness accounting for your behaviors. Your doctor may then refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for an in-depth assessment.

Reporting issues

The clinician will want to speak with you about any issues you have regarding communication, emotions, behavioral patterns, range of interests, and more.

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You’ll answer questions about your childhood, and your clinician might request to speak with your parents or other older family members to gain their perspectives about your lifelong behavior patterns.

If the diagnostic criteria for children are being used for reference, your clinician can ask your parent questions from that list, relying on their memories of you as a child for further information.

Potential factors

If your clinician determines that you didn’t display symptoms of ASD in childhood, but instead began experiencing symptoms as a teen or adult, you may be evaluated for other possible mental health or affective disorders.

Because most autism diagnoses are made in children, it could be a challenge to find a healthcare professional who will diagnose adults.

Is there a test for adult autism?

There are no medical tests for ASD, no matter your age. This means that ASD can’t be detected using methods like blood tests or imaging tests.

Instead, a doctor will review behaviors to make an ASD diagnosis. For adults, this usually means an in-person visit where the doctor asks questions and evaluates how you respond. They will also consider self-reported symptoms.

Many psychologists use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2), a diagnostic assessment when assessing adults.

Self-administered ASD questionnaires for adults are available online. These tests include the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and derivatives like the AQ-10, AQ-20, and AQ-S, among others. These tests are not the same as a professional evaluation and should not be viewed as definitive.

Potential benefits of living with an autism diagnosis

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Receiving an ASD diagnosis as an adult could mean a greater understanding of yourself and how you relate to the world. And it can help you learn how to better work with your strengths and strengthen areas of your life that are impacted.

Getting diagnosed can help you gain a different perspective on your childhood. It can also help those around you to understand and empathize more with your unique characteristics.

A better understanding of your own situation can help you find new and inventive ways to work with your strengths and qualities. You can also work with your clinician and your loved ones to seek supports that may be right for you.

Adults aren’t generally given the same support as children with ASD. Sometimes adults with ASD may be treated with cognitive, verbal, and applied behavioral therapy.

Note that certain therapies such as applied behavioral analysis (ABA) are controversial in autistic communities. Some advocacy groups such as the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network do not support the use of ABA.

In general, you’ll want to seek out specific support based on the impacts you’re experiencing. This might include anxiety, social isolation, relationship problems, or job difficulties.

Some possibilities include:

Psychiatrist or psychologist

A psychiatrist is a doctor and is qualified to make an official medical diagnosis of ASD. There are some psychiatrists that even specialize in ASD. Licensed psychologists (PhD) are also qualified to make these diagnoses, and may be more affordable in some areas.

(Video) Why are so many autistic adults undiagnosed? | Kip Chow | TEDxSFU

In some states, other licensed mental health professionals such as social workers may also provide official ASD assessments.

An official diagnosis may be required to cover related expenses such as therapy through your health insurance provider. It may also help to qualify you for governmental protections and programs, though these can vary by state.


A psychiatrist may also prescribe you medication. This could help to alleviate symptoms of disorders like anxiety or depression, which sometimes occur alongside ASD.

Social worker

Social workers can play an important role in supporting autistic people. They may be familiar with local resources and self-advocacy groups. Some social workers can provide support as case managers, helping to facilitate appropriate mental health and medical care.


There are many types of therapy that can be helpful for autistic adults, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), physical therapy, or occupational therapy.

A psychologist can provide general counseling or therapy either individually or in a group setting.

Vocational rehabilitation

A vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselor can help evaluate your specific strengths and needs when it comes to working. They can then assist you in finding or retaining employment. This is a governmental service that varies by state.

Support groups

Many autistic adults have found support through online groups and forums, as well as by connecting in person with other adults on the autism spectrum.

The takeaway

(Video) How to Get an Adult Autism Diagnosis

If you’re diagnosed with ASD, it’s possible to seek support that helps improve your quality of life and outlook moving forward. While it’s not as common for adults to be diagnosed with ASD as children, more adults are asking to be evaluated for autism.

In some cases, getting a diagnosis can be a step toward positive outcomes such as accessing resources, understanding your own strengths, and building connections with other autistic people.


What is the best treatment for autism in adults? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that can be effective in helping children and adults. During CBT sessions, people learn about the connections between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. This may help to identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger negative behaviors.

What kind of support do autistic adults need? ›

Many adults with autism live at home or with a friend or family member. When additional support is needed, in-home services may include a companion, homemaking/housekeeping, therapy and other health services, or personal care. Respite Care.

What is used to diagnose autism in adults? ›

The Social Communication Questionnaire, Autism Spectrum Quotient, Adaptive Behavior Questionnaire, Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-2 (ADOS) are commonly used. The latter two are the most comprehensive measures available.

What does high functioning autism look like in adults? ›

Difficulty Communicating and Awkward Communication

– Difficulty reading social cues and participating in conversations. – Difficulty empathizing with other people's thoughts and feelings. – Struggling to read people's body language or facial expressions.

What are the signs of high functioning autism in adults? ›

Common signs of autism in adults include:
  • finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling.
  • getting very anxious about social situations.
  • finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.
  • seeming blunt, rude or not interested in others without meaning to.
  • finding it hard to say how you feel.

Do autistic adults get disability benefits? ›

Autism is a disability under the ADA. Some adults and children with autism can access Social Security benefits, including disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

What benefits can autistic adults claim? ›

Benefits you can get Advice & Support for:
  • Disability benefits (Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment)
  • Benefits for people who are not working (or only doing a small amount of work)
  • Jobseeker's Allowance.
  • Employment and Support Allowance.
  • Income Support.
  • Carer's Allowance.
Dec 8, 2020

What are the best states to live for adults with autism? ›

Colorado, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut typically rank high as the states providing the most benefits to autistic people in all age groups.

What are the 12 symptoms of autism in adults? ›

Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adults
  • Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling.
  • Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues.
  • Difficulty regulating emotion.
  • Trouble keeping up a conversation.
  • Inflection that does not reflect feelings.
Jan 19, 2023

What is level 1 autism in adults? ›

Level 1 Autism

Someone who would fall into this level of autism is capable of interacting with other people. However, they might still struggle and need coaching and assistance. For example, in some of the following areas: Problems with starting a conversation.

Is it worth getting an autism diagnosis? ›

An autism diagnosis should be done as it helps patients get the help they need for combatting symptoms of the disorder, while also changing their lives for the better.

What therapy is used for high functioning autism? ›

Treatment for high-functioning autism

Occupational therapy, physical therapy, and talk therapy are all alternatives for autism treatment. However, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is commonly regarded as the "gold standard" of autism therapy.

Can autism get worse in adulthood? ›

Autism does not change or worsen as someone gets older, and there's no cure. Autism isn't like a pair of shoes that needs to be broken in for complete comfort. This is because no matter what you've heard, the notion that you'll wake up one day no longer autistic is, was, and will forever be untrue.

What happens if autism is not treated? ›

Untreated autism causes changes in brain function that make it more difficult for the person to control impulsive behavior or think rationally about their actions before they act on them. This can lead to situations where ASD adults are unable to live alone and take care of themselves without assistance.

Can adults have autism and not know it? ›

Many people do not recognize the signs of autism until adulthood. And, even then, it's often mistaken for ADHD or another comorbidity. Here, learn the signs of ASD beyond childhood.

How do people with high functioning autism behave? ›

Like all people on the autism spectrum, people who are high functioning have a hard time with social interaction and communication. They don't naturally read social cues and might find it difficult to make friends. They can get so stressed by a social situation that they shut down.

How much SSI can you get for autism? ›

So, how much is a disability check for autism? There isn't a simple answer to this question because every child and their parents will be treated as an individual case, and this will impact how much they receive each month. Currently, the full benefit amount is $841 a month.

Can you get a SSI check for autism? ›

Conditions like autism are recognized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) as potentially disabling and may be able to qualify you or your child for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits through one of both of the SSA's disability programs.

How hard is it to get SSDI for autism? ›

Most adults with autism will not qualify for SSDI benefits because they'll need to have worked in the past, and because autism is congenital, it won't “worsen” over time and render someone unable to work midlife.

Can I get a blue badge with autism? ›

From the 30th August 2019, the Blue Badge scheme has been extended to include people with 'hidden disabilities', such as people who are autistic, have a learning disability, dementia or a mental illness.

Is Mild autism considered a disability? ›

Autism is considered a disability from a medical and legal standpoint. According to these perspectives, the condition makes it difficult for a person to interact with their environment. As a result, autistic people are eligible for various disability benefits.

Should autistic adults live alone? ›

The simple answer to this question is yes, a person with autism spectrum disorder can live independently as an adult.

What percent of autistic adults can live independently? ›

99% of adults diagnosed with autistic disorder as children are incapable of living independently. Forget all the hype about autism as a superpower. A new study out of South Carolina following 187 people diagnosed with autistic disorder found their long-term outcomes to be overwhelmingly negative.

What is the mildest form of autism? ›

Asperger's Syndrome is the mildest form of autism and is closely associated with level one of ASD.

What are the mildest symptoms of autism? ›

What Are Some Possible Signs of Mild Autism?
  • Repetitive play or verbal expressiveness (echolalia)
  • A fixation on certain activities, ideas, or concepts.
  • A reluctance to engage in new experiences or to disrupt routines.
  • Aversion to certain forms of interaction, especially hugging or cuddling.
Jan 2, 2021

Is there medication for autism? ›

Currently, there is no medication that can cure autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or all of its symptoms. But some medications can help treat certain symptoms associated with ASD, especially certain behaviors.

What is Level 2 autism like? ›

ASD Level 2 – In the mid-range of ASD is Level 2. In this level, individuals require substantial support and have problems that are more readily obvious to others. These issues may be trouble with verbal communication, having very restricted interests, and exhibiting frequent, repetitive behaviors.

What is level 2 ASD symptoms? ›

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support: Marked difficulties in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. Markedly odd, restricted repetitive behaviors, noticeable difficulties changing activities or focus.

What is Kanner's syndrome? ›

Kanner's Syndrome

This type of autism is also known as Classic Autistic Disorder, and its symptoms can include challenges communicating or understanding others, engaging in virtually no eye contact, and a hypersensitivity to stimuli (smell, light, noise, taste, or touch).

What are the downsides of autism diagnosis? ›

Cons: Your child might think there is 'something wrong' with them. Your family may not be in a good emotional space at this time to go through this process. There have been disruptions in your child's life and development (e.g., trauma, significant illness etc.)

What are the cons of getting an autism diagnosis? ›

Although an ASD diagnosis implies several of these psycho-social benefits, it also carries some risks: psychological risks like elevated parental stress, social risks like stigmatization, and relational difficulties in the parent–child relationship [11,21,22].

How much does an autism diagnosis cost? ›

However, autism screenings and diagnoses can be very costly and time-consuming. Informal screenings can cost anywhere from $0 - $500, while formal diagnostic tests can cost up to $5,000.

What is the number one treatment for autism? ›

Behavioral approaches have the most evidence for treating symptoms of ASD. They have become widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals and are used in many schools and treatment clinics. A notable behavioral treatment for people with ASD is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Can autism in adults be cured? ›

Most experts agree that there is no cure for autism. That's why many of them approach ASD in a way that looks at the management of symptoms or development of skills and support, which includes behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy.

What medication is used for high functioning autism? ›

Medication Treatment for Autism
  • Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) This group of antidepressants treats some problems that result from imbalances in the body's chemical systems. ...
  • Tricyclics. ...
  • Psychoactive or anti-psychotic medications. ...
  • Stimulants. ...
  • Anti-anxiety medications. ...
  • Anticonvulsants.
Apr 19, 2021

Does CBD help autistic adults? ›

There was an improvement in social interactions, concentration, and emotional stability. A combination of high CBD and low-dose THC oil was demonstrated to be an effective treatment option for managing symptoms associated with autism, leading to a better quality of life for both the patient and the caregivers.

What are the newest treatments for autism? ›

Based on the urgent need for new therapies, Penzes' team developed a derivative of an insulin-like growth factor-binding protein, IGFBP2, which is found in structures of the brain affected in ASD and has been shown to improve neuroplasticity and cognitive functions.

What is the downside of ABA therapy? ›

Studies have shown that ABA is effective, but some parents and autistic self-advocates do not support its use. One criticism of ABA is that the earliest version of it used punishments as well as rewards. Punishments are no longer used in ABA, but critics think it is still too hard on kids because it is so repetitive.

Can autism get worse in adults? ›

Autism does not change or worsen as someone gets older, and there's no cure. Autism isn't like a pair of shoes that needs to be broken in for complete comfort. This is because no matter what you've heard, the notion that you'll wake up one day no longer autistic is, was, and will forever be untrue.

Can autistic adults change? ›

Autism symptoms can change over time—improving in some people and worsening in others. A child, teen, or adult's daily habits, treatment, and support plays a major role in which direction symptoms evolve.

Can Adderall help with autism? ›

There is no medicine for autism specifically. But there is medicine that treats symptoms typically associated with autism, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggression. This can include a range of medications, such as antipsychotics like Risperdal or stimulants like Adderall.

How does Abilify help autism? ›

Aripirazole is an antipsychotic drug - a type of medication used to treat serious mental disorders such as paranoia. It has also been used to treat behavioural problems (e.g. aggression, severe temper tantrums) in people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

What is the most commonly used psychological treatment for ASD? ›

Behavior therapy. Behavior therapy is a commonly used ASD treatment that aims to encourage desired behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors. Most behavior therapies follow techniques set out by applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA aims to help a child with ASD understand the connection between behaviors and consequences ...

What are the uses of CBD oil for autism? ›

While scientific studies are underway, families report CBD oils can reduce stress for people on the autism spectrum, as well as lessen aggression, self-injurious behaviors, and anxiety surrounding social interactions. Recent reports indicate CBD can aid children with co-occurring seizures.

Is CBD isolate good for autism? ›

CBD and Autism

Neither CBD nor any other drug can remove or cure core symptoms of autism, which include social communication challenges, sensory dysfunction, and restricted, repetitive behaviors. CBD can, however, help to alleviate epilepsy in some children and adults with autism.

Does CBD help with overstimulation? ›

CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it will not produce a high. When the levels of CBD and THC are balanced, it can actually mellow out the overstimulation caused by too much THC. This is why many cannabis strains that are promoted as “non-anxiety inducing” have high levels of CBD.


1. Do I Have Autism? ADHD? Both? An Adult’s Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment (w/ Benjamin Yerys, Ph.D.)
(ADDitude Magazine)
2. Adult Autism Assessment
(Purple Ella)
3. How to not miss the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in adults
4. Unpacking "Pathological Demand Avoidance" [CC]
(Sydney Zarlengo)
5. The Importance of Stimming in Late Diagnosed Autistic Adults
(Mom on the Spectrum)
6. Autism - A Diagnosis in Adulthood
(The Retreat Clinics)
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