Spotting autism in adults can be a valuable skill, as it helps us better understand and support individuals who may have been undiagnosed or overlooked during childhood. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. While autism is typically diagnosed in childhood, many individuals go undiagnosed until adulthood. Recognizing the signs of autism in adults can contribute to their well-being and enable them to access appropriate support and resources.
Understanding the signs of autism in adults helps create a more inclusive and accommodating environment, fostering acceptance and support for individuals on the autism spectrum. By raising awareness and promoting understanding, we can ensure that autistic adults receive the understanding, acceptance, and opportunities they deserve.
All right then, these are the top signs and traits.
1. Alone Time.
The first sign to spot an autistic adult is that they prefer alone time rather than the company of others. So while they may like spending time with you, you might be their partner or their friend, they prefer not to entertain others in their own home. As an autistic adult, our home really is our safe space, and that’s no different for kids. But as you get older and there are more stressors thrown upon you, more demands placed upon you, your home really becomes this fortress of solitude. I’d also say autistic adults, including me, can be very protective in maintaining our safe place. And I’d go as far as to say to the detriment of others. Now, you might think, “What?” If this is our safe place and other people want to come into that, it doesn’t really matter what effect we have on them to make that go away. We’re super protective of this safe zone to the detriment of others, which really doesn’t even appear on our radar.
And the last thing I’d say about safe zones, or your home for an autistic adult, or someone you think may be an autistic adult, is this disproportionate response, this overreaction in your mind to the simplest things like a door knock, or an uninvited guest. And for me, you could throw in just too many people in my home. These are the things that you might think, “Who cares? Someone knocked on the door, someone just rocked up to say, ‘Hello.'” Or there are lots of people here, we’re all having fun. You might think that, but for me, that’s not the case. This is not anything mere. This is a major intrusion into my safe zone. So yeah, there’s going to be different reactions, and they’re going to seem disproportionate.
Another sign to spot an autistic adult in your life is do they have communication challenges, or do they communicate in a very different way. Do you find them constantly asking questions, or interrupting you while you are trying to tell them something? Do you find yourself being peppered with follow-up questions that aren’t always even relevant to the topic of the conversation?
Autistic adults often like to question every point of a conversation, dissecting every last word. I do this all the time. I do it to process what I’m hearing so I can understand it and I can contribute. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly frustrating for the people in the conversation with me, I get that. But critically, without the endless questions, for the most part, autistic people will tend to simply misinterpret what you are saying. So but for all these endless questions, we may never interpret correctly what you are trying to convey to us. So there’s a point to them, they’re just frustrating.
Autistic adults can also become disinterested in conversations really quickly. We can lose focus and patience. And honestly, sometimes they’ll just say, “Can you just get to the point? What are you trying to tell me? Can you just tell me what you’re trying to tell me?” And often, there is no point. See, as an autistic person, it doesn’t occur to me that people would talk when they have no point to make. They would just talk. For an autistic person, this can be very confusing. So it works both ways to understand where it’s coming from, from both sides.
3. Inward Focus.
The next sign to spot an autistic adult is that they seem to focus their time and energy inwardly, as an inward focus, rather than say, outwardly focusing, like many neurotypical, non-autistic people. It’s been said that women focus on people, while men focus on things. And that may be right or wrong, but for autistic people, it’s even more specific than that.
Autistic adults tend to spend a lot of their time, if not all their time, focusing on their passions, and their special interests. In other words, we adopt an inward focus by default. It’s not something we’ve chosen to do, we just wake up and by default focus inwardly. So there’s a clear favoring of our passions and our interests over everything else. And part of that inward focus is a tendency to mask, or suppress our true selves and our true emotions and feelings to keep them inside, while at the same time, though, struggling to interpret, process, and deal with these emotions and feelings that we’re trying to hide.
4. World of Their Own.
The next sign to spot an autistic adult is: do they seem to live in a world of their own? Autistic adults can sometimes just appear clueless about what’s happening around them, unaware of what’s going on around them, and stuck in their own world. I absolutely can struggle with the awareness of others around me or the awareness of others in general. And this would include a lack of awareness of the presence, of wants, needs, feelings, and the intentions of people we’re spending our time with.
We can also lack awareness of time and space and our surroundings, environment, and our own personal needs. We can also appear to be living in a world of our own because we can really struggle with identifying body language, verbal and nonverbal cues, voice tone, and just general language that can make us feel like we’re an alien living on a foreign planet.
5. Executive Function.
The next sign to spot an autistic adult is that they tend to struggle in multitasking. So managing multiple tasks, demands, or even interactions. As an autistic adult, I have a strong urge or need that I must complete a task before moving on to another task. And there may not be any logical reason why one task is more important than another to other people. But for me, this must be done before I can do this. And I would put this sign under the banner of executive function. So we have executive function challenges, like for example, in my case, not being able to appropriately prioritize tasks.
So an example for me is, I can put certain tasks first, and I can make them a priority, while to others, they’re not actually important or the priority, but in my mind they are. I can also feel a strong sense of resentment towards other people or other tasks, things that are not remotely connected to my interest or passion, getting in the way of me doing tasks that are connected to my interests, passions that are a priority of mine.
6. Sensory Challenges.
Another sign to spot an autistic adult in your life is they appear just generally super sensitive to things like smells and tastes and noises and light. And I’m talking sensitively to a level that doesn’t seem right to you or other people. In other words, they may be sensitive to smells, tastes, noises, or lights that don’t bother anyone else. So on the surface, it can seem unbelievable, disproportionate, just plain made up. But sensory processing challenges and hypersensitivity to senses like smell, touch, taste, noise, and light, are very common challenges for autistic people.
A particular paradox that can really frustrate my family is I can be really hypersensitive to noises. So I’m startled so quickly, I get startled all the time, and a lot of times, I end up just putting my hands on my ears because I can’t hear this noise anymore, or I don’t know how to get it past this noise. But the paradox being hypersensitive to noise, “But why are you so bloody louder? You’re always talking loud, you’re so loud, you’re banging and clanging.” It’s funny. It’s a paradox, I guess. It’s interesting, and I think it’s pretty common.
As an autistic person, I am really super sensitive to banging and clanging and noises, but I am that person. Also, and this is a sign you may have noticed, certain voices, or noises, or actions can set off an autistic person straight away out of nowhere and it just makes no sense how that’s possible. For me, a squeaky door, and loud eaters, can’t be in the room with loud eaters. You know what’s worse, slurpy drinkers? Do you know what’s worse than that? I’m a loud eater and I’m a slurpy drinker.
Read More: 12 Fast Facts About Autism.
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