Adult autism symptoms

Updated November 21, 2016

About one out of 166 children are born with autism (see Resources). Although autism is usually discovered by age three, in some cases adults can struggle through life, knowing something isn’t right but unaware they have autism. Usually, these are adults who have mild rather than full-blown cases. Although a diagnosis may be devastating, initially, the good news is that most adults with autism are able to function in society if they receive the proper treatment.


Autism is a complicated, permanent disability that hinders thought processes and social development. It affects the normal operation of the brain, resulting in difficulties communicating and interacting with other people.


The two types of autism are high functioning and low functioning. Adult who are low functioning need continual care and most often live with their parents at home or in residential homes so their needs can be met. Because group and residential facilities can be expensive, families often care for their adult children at home.

Adults with high functioning autism are able to enjoy rather normal lives, supporting and caring for themselves. Although they face challenges, they can care for themselves and usually make a living. Their biggest problems stem from how others see them.

Symptoms of Adult Autism

Symptoms for adults who didn’t know they had autism are similar to children with mild autism. Probably they didn’t think of themselves as autistic because they’ve crafted various ways of coping since childhood. On the other hand, people with severe autism get diagnosed early, rather than those who just discovered a diagnosis.

Communication is difficult. While typical people can interpret subtle statements and body language, autistic adults often don’t understand sarcastic tones, jokes, simple facial expressions and other non-verbal signals. That’s why many autistic people prefer e-mail and other forms of written communication.

Social awkwardness is another symptom. Most often, problems communicating lead to social insecurity as autistic adults struggle with social cues that come naturally to others. Eye contact is also a problem, with non-autistic people misinterpreting lack of eye contact for indifference or disrespect.

Adults with autism struggle with intimacy, even though highly functioning autistic adults are able to make friends and do limited socialising.

They’re time challenged, not as aware as most people when it’s time to leave an activity and do something else. Often they need directional help as they sometimes dwell on insignificant tasks, like taking hours to organise items.

Emotionally, they can get out of control, turning a minor incident into a major crisis. What doesn’t bother most people can cause an uproar such as moving an object to a new place.

Some autistic people are obsessed with a single subject or object, constantly bringing a topic of conversation around to their obsession. Not only do many of them lack social skills, but they can repeatedly bring up their obsessions at unsuitable times. Staring for hours at objects such as a clothes dryer or playing with running water is another trait of some adults. In severe cases, autistic adults cannot care for themselves and need help with basic tasks. These adults were diagnosed young because it was obvious they had a disorder.

Emplyoment Opportunities

The degree to which autistic adults can support themselves is linked to intelligence and communication skills. Although they may not have good short-term memories, their long-term memories are considered exceptional compared to other adults.

For adults who struggle with a greater severity of autism, support groups and services, such as the Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC) can help. Job training programs can also help them find jobs matching their skills and strengths.


Autism is not the same as mental retardation. About ten per cent of autistic people have specific skills not found in typical people. For example, some can memorise long lists, calculate the day of the week someone is born or display exceptional musical talents.


Because autism in children is on the rise, there can be problems concerning where adults with autism can live when their parents can no longer care for them. Presently, there are not enough group homes residences to take care of the influx of autistic children who will eventually enter adulthood. Considering this need, more group homes for autistic adults need to emerge in the future.

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