Autism in adults

Getting a diagnosis of autism (including Asperger syndrome) can be a really positive step. A lot of adults say their diagnosis has helped them to understand why they find certain things difficult, and also why they are especially good at some things.

Having a diagnosis also means you can get easier access to support and benefits. However, the process of getting a diagnosis can be difficult for adults.

The usual way to get a formal diagnosis is to go to your GP and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, preferably one with experience of diagnosing autism.

Here are some tips from The National Autistic Society (NAS) on how to present your case so that your doctor can see why you may have autism, and why having a diagnosis is helpful.

If you think you may have autism

When visiting your GP to discuss autism, make sure this is the only thing you are seeing your doctor about. If you try to drop it into a consultation about another subject, they may not address it fully. A good way to bring up the subject is to mention that you have been reading about autism or Asperger syndrome, or that you have been in touch with the NAS. 

Describing your experiences

The autistic spectrum (the range of symptoms people with autism have) is very broad, and two people with the condition may have very different symptoms or traits. Most people with autism have the difficulties discussed below.

Difficulty with social communication

People with autism have difficulty using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as jokes and sarcasm. Some people with the condition might not speak or have fairly limited speech. They may understand what people say to them but prefer to use alternative forms of communication, such as sign language.

Difficulty with social interaction

People with autism have difficulty recognising and understanding people’s feelings and managing their own. They may, for example, stand too close to another person, prefer to be alone, behave inappropriately and may not seek comfort from other people. This can make it hard for them to make friends.

Difficulty with social imagination

Those with autism have difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behaviour, and imagining situations that are outside their own routine. This can mean they carry out a narrow, repetitive range of activities. A lack of social imagination should not be confused with lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative.

If your doctor disagrees with your argument, ask for the reason why. If you don't feel comfortable discussing their decision there and then, ask for another appointment to talk it through.

Why you may need an autism diagnosis

Diagnosis in adulthood can have advantages and disadvantages. Some people are happy with self-diagnosis and decide not to ask for a formal one. For those that do want a diagnosis, there are various benefits, according to the NAS. These include:

Understanding yourself

People with autism have often known for a long time that they have specific difficulties, but haven't been able to explain them. They may have even been misdiagnosed. A firm diagnosis can be a relief, because it means they can learn about their condition and understand for the first time why they have difficulties.

Gaining the understanding of others

Many people suffer from constantly being misunderstood. When the people close to you understand why you find certain things difficult, it's much easier for them to empathise.

Receiving the right services for your needs

Once a diagnosis has been given, you can access autism-specific services. Read more about autism in adulthood.

The NAS website has a range of diagnosis information, which can help you understand your condition.

You may also like to download their guide What Next? for adults who have already been diagnosed with autism.

Page last reviewed: 08/05/2014

Next review due: 31/08/2016

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Autistic spectrum disorder: Graeme’s story

Graeme took a dyslexia test at the age of 24, which showed he had signs of autism. He describes how he was finally diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and what the diagnosis meant to him.

Media last reviewed: 31/03/2016

Next review due: 31/03/2018

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