Can Adults Get Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is usually diagnosed in young children. But what if you think you may be on the spectrum, and it never got diagnosed?

Parents of very young children are on the lookout for classic symptoms like lack of eye contact, repetitive movements, and sensory issues. And all kids are screened for these signs at their 18- and 24-month pediatrician well-child visits, so most cases of autism spectrum disorder are diagnosed by the age of 2.

That wasn’t always the case. Not too long ago, some kids who would be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder today might have been labeled as “difficult” or “learning disabled,” and may not have gotten the help they needed.

Now, those children are adults and may wonder if they might have ASD.

Do I Have ASD?

If you think you might have autism spectrum disorder, you could have fairly mild symptoms, which is why you weren’t diagnosed in the first place.

But even if you have more severe symptoms, it’s still possible that you could have been misdiagnosed. In many cases, autism spectrum disorder was mistaken for attention deficit disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other mental conditions.

Some adults seek an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis when one of their own kids, or another family member, turns out to have it. Others are steered in that direction by a therapist or doctor who’s treating them for another condition.

And some people strike out on their own to figure out if their symptoms and habits might be caused by ASD.

The problem is, there’s no established procedure for diagnosing ASD in adults. So, adult autism specialists are hard to find.

It might be best to find a children’s doctor and begin there. Or you could ask your primary care doctor or psychologist for a referral. If your area has an autism center, that would be an excellent place to start.

You may also want to look into self-assessment tests for adults. These tools aren’t well-established, and cannot by themselves give you a diagnosis, but they can be a good place to start and something to discuss with your doctor.

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Getting a Diagnosis

One reason an adult ASD diagnosis can be tricky is that you’ve probably become very good at managing -- or even hiding -- your symptoms. When you visit the doctor or autism specialist, expect him to observe your behavior and ask a lot of questions. He might use a children’s checklist because many of the symptoms are the same, like repetitive behavior, obsession with daily routine, and difficulty with social interaction.

It can also be hard to get information about your childhood and development. Parents answer the questions when a child is being diagnosed, but that can’t always happen when you’re an adult. If parents or any older relatives are willing and able, the doctor will probably want to talk to them.

Your path to an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis probably won’t be a straight one. You might find out that you don’t have it, but another condition instead. Take it one step at a time until you get the answers you’re looking for.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on November 18, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Mental Health: “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

The Arc: “Autism and Adult Diagnosis.”

Autism Speaks: “Getting Evaluated for Autism as an Adult. Where to Go? Who to See?” “Researchers develop first autism symptom self-assessment for adults.”

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