Every person with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) is different but some of the more common characteristics include:
- difficulties with high-level language skills such as verbal reasoning, problem solving, making inferences and predictions
- problems with understanding another person’s point of view
- difficulties initiating social interactions and maintaining an interaction
- may not respond in the way that is expected in a social interaction
- a preference for routines and schedules – disruption of a routine can result in stress or anxiety
- specialised fields of interest or hobbies.
Diagnosis of ASD in adults
It is not unusual for people on the autism spectrum to have reached adulthood without a diagnosis.
Sometimes people will read some information or see something about ASD that makes them think ‘That sounds like me.’ They may then choose to talk to a health professional for a diagnosis, or they may not.
You may choose to seek a diagnosis for suspected ASD if:
- you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition or intellectual disability during childhood or adolescence, but think that you may have ASD
- you have struggled with feeling socially isolated and different
- your child or other family member has been diagnosed with ASD and some of the characteristics of autism sound familiar to you.
If you wish to seek an assessment for ASD, you can:
- talk to a psychologist with experience in the assessment and diagnosis of autism
- talk to your GP
- seek a referral to a psychiatrist with experience in the assessment and diagnosis of autism from your GP. (They can also provide a referral to see a psychologist, although you do not require one to make an appointment.)
A psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in the assessment and diagnosis of autism will ask you about your childhood, and experiences at school and as an adult. They may also do some psychological or psychiatric testing.
A speech therapist may also be consulted to assess your social communication skills.
All of this information will be used to help make a diagnosis.
If you are diagnosed with ASD, you may feel relieved to know why you feel or behave the way you do. A diagnosis may also help you and your family to understand and cope with the challenges you face.
ASD and understanding the emotions of other people
A person on the autism spectrum may find it hard to understand the emotions of other people. Emotions are interpreted by subtle messages sent by facial expression, eye contact and body language. These are often missed or misinterpreted by a person on the autism spectrum. Because of this, people on the autism spectrum might be mistakenly perceived as being rude or unfeeling. People on the autism spectrum may be unaware of how others perceive their behaviour.
Partners of people with ASD
Some people on the autism spectrum will successfully maintain relationships. However, like most relationships, there are challenges.
An adult’s diagnosis of ASD often follows their child’s diagnosis of ASD or that of another relative. This ‘double whammy’ can be extremely distressing to the partner who has to cope simultaneously with both diagnoses. Counselling, or joining a support group where they can talk with other people who face the same challenges, can be helpful.
A partner on the autism spectrum, like any partner, will have strengths and weaknesses when it comes to relationships. A neuro-typical partner may find that there are communication breakdowns, such as misunderstandings or finding that your partner is not able to anticipate your feelings. A partner on the autism spectrum may need routine, order and time to pursue their hobbies.
Relationship counselling with a counsellor or psychologist experienced at working with people on the autism spectrum can assist couples to develop strategies and to communicate more effectively with each other.
You’ll need to see a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to confirm a diagnosis of Autism. Assessment of ASD usually involves screening questionnaires and a detailed clinical interview, in addition to collateral information. We also use objective tests to improve diagnostic accuracy. The qEEG can also been used as part of the diagnostic process and in determining treatment.
Medications have limited role in the management of ASD. People diagnosed in adulthood are usually high functioning and may benefit from neuromodulatory interventions like the Safe and Sound Protocol and Neurofeedback, in addition to psychotherapy.