Can Adults Get Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on January 12, 2023
3 min read

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 age 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 they or their family members may wonder if they might 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 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.

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 them to observe your behavior and ask a lot of questions. They 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. But regardless of where it takes you, it is important to find resources to learn the coping skills necessary to navigate your day-to-day world is key.