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Signs and Symptoms of Autism in Adults

by
author image Virginia Franco
Based in Charlotte, N.C., Virginia Franco has more than 15 years experience freelance writing. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including the education magazine "My School Rocks" and Work.com. Franco has a master's degree in social work with an emphasis in health care from the University of Maryland and a journalism degree from the University of Richmond.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism in Adults
Adults in a business meeting. Photo Credit Michael Blann/Photodisc/Getty Images

Overview

Most adults with autism have likely possessed their personality traits since early childhood, but were either overlooked or misdiagnosed. Autistic traits from childhood can persist into adulthood, but with a wide range of outcomes depending on the severity of the disorder. While every case of autism is unique and symptoms will likely range in scope, there are several common signs that are characteristic of adults with autism.

Communications and Social Interactions

Adults with autism often experience difficulties with the nuances of social communications and interactions. Even those high-functioning adults with the mildest form of autism -- known as Asperger Syndrome -- may be good at basic communications, but can’t pick up on body and facial language cues. Small talk or small group discussions are challenging. These individuals may take what others say literally and fail to understand teasing. They often possess a limited range of discussion topics from which to choose, and are not aware when a topic becomes socially inappropriate. They may have a hard time making eye contact, understanding another person’s perspective, and expressing emotions or empathy. As a result of these difficulties with communication, many adults with autism are not very social and do not have many friends.

Rigidity

While adults with autism are often extremely creative and can successfully pursue musical and artistic interests, they are often less flexible with day-to-day tasks. As a result, many with autism will overcompensate with meticulous checklists and rigid routines and schedules. Adults with autism can experience intense anxiety when there is a kink in the plans, a change in routine, or the possibility of the unknown. For example, an adult with autism may be unable to adhere to a loose itinerary when it comes to taking a trip or even figuring out what to pack before leaving, without suffering much anxiety.

Sexuality

Adults with autism can appear to have inappropriate or immature understanding of what is sexually appropriate. While these individuals appear to be just as interested in sex as other adults their age, the skills required to manage an intimate relationship often eludes them, and they have trouble negotiating the often unspoken rules of courtship.

Secondary Mental Health Issues

Many adults with autism suffer from secondary mental health issues related to their symptoms. Obsessive compulsive behaviors, phobias and anxieties around routines and social interactions are also common in adults with autism, as is depression and its resulting social isolation.

Dyspraxia

Although by no means common, some adults with autism show signs of dyspraxia, a sort of clumsiness that can impact both fine and gross motor skills. People with dyspraxia often have sloppy handwriting, and trip or fall a lot.

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