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5 Things You Need to Know About Pursuing an Autism Diagnosis as an Adult

By Fraser Psychologist Jessica Dodge, Fraser Mental Health Professional Jordan Brandt, and Fraser Psychologist Nick Spangler • autism, adults and autism, autism diagnosis, getting diagnosed with autism, autism adult, signs of autism, autism symptoms, ASD, autism acceptance, autism spectrum, neurodiversity, neurodivergent, woman and autism, women and autism • December 02, 2021

One reason autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is diagnosed more frequently now is simply, we understand more about autism, the traits and how it presents in people. That helps therapists and other medical professionals diagnose it earlier.

For young children and their families currently seeking a diagnosis, this is great news. But there is a generation of adults who weren’t diagnosed as children who may now find themselves wondering if they might be on the spectrum. In this blog, our Fraser experts answer some common questions you might have as an adult pursuing an autism diagnosis.

Is it harder to get an autism diagnosis as an adult?

The answer is yes, it can be, but mental health experts diagnose adults with autism all the time. Fraser Psychologist Jessica Dodge says it can be harder to diagnose adults because an autism evaluation involves looking at a child’s developmental history. For an older person, this means talking to a parent or a caregiver about a child growing up. However, Dodge says there are other ways to get this information. Talking to a sibling, friend or another family member can also provide insight into an individual’s development, social skills and patterns of behavior. Dodge has even used a mom’s journal entries to provide needed information for an autism evaluation.

Dodge says women may have a harder time being diagnosed because they are often better at social masking. However, since many experts know this, they’re better equipped to observe and assess such behaviors. 

What are some signs that I might be on the spectrum?

According to Fraser experts, here are some of the most common adult experiences:

  • Feeling like you have to wear a social mask around others
  • Struggling with sensory sensitivities like bright lights or loud noises
  • Preferring to stick to routines because change is very hard for you
  • Transitioning to adulthood was very difficult
  • Living independently is challenging
  • Receiving other mental health diagnoses, but still feeling like something is missing

Fraser Mental Health Professional Jordan Brandt says one of the things they hear most often from adults with autism is, “They feel like they grew up without a manual that everyone else had.” However, Brandt cautions, “Just because you don’t fit in with others doesn’t necessarily mean that you have autism.”

“Be careful of what you see on social media,” Dodge adds. “You should seek out an expert and go through the type of comprehensive review only they can provide.”

How can I find someone to evaluate me for ASD as an adult?

When looking for someone to evaluate you, look for a mental health provider specializing in autism, and it’s even better if the provider mentions working with adults with autism. Fraser Psychologist Nick Spangler also says certain autism evaluation tools are particularly insightful. If a provider uses the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), that is a good sign, as this is considered the gold standard by many therapists. The National Library of Medicine defines the ADOS as “a semistructured, standardized assessment of social interaction, communication, play and imaginative use of materials for individuals suspected of having autism spectrum disorders.” Spangler also says the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADIR) is a good evaluation tool. According to Pearson, The ADIR is “a structured interview used for diagnosing autism, planning treatment and distinguishing autism from other developmental disorders.”

How should I prepare for an autism evaluation? 

Most people have Googled their symptoms when they’re feeling sick. While that’s perfectly normal, coming to your autism evaluation with a list of research articles isn’t helpful, says Brandt.

“Sit down and think about your life and how things you’re struggling with have impacted you,” says Brandt. “It’s okay to make a list of things you want to discuss, as you may feel overwhelmed when you get to your appointment. But you don’t need to send the list before your appointment.”

You should also be prepared to hear that you don’t have autism.

“It’s possible some typical autism traits will resonate with you,” says Spangler. “But you might not meet the medical threshold for autism, which means it doesn’t impair your life.

Spangler says it’s also okay to seek a second opinion. Brandt adds you should feel your wants and needs were met and advocate for yourself during the evaluation. This can be particularly important for “women and minorities [who] are 20 to 30 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed” for a variety of medical conditions, according to Heathline.

What are some benefits of getting a diagnosis as an adult?

Dodge says for many adults, receiving an ASD diagnosis provides a sense of clarity and understanding. It also allows individuals to access many important services, like employment support, therapy and supportive housing. It can provide people with the help needed to reach goals they’ve been unable to attain on their own.

“Autism can be a word that helps them understand why their life has been different,” says Dodge.                

For adults wondering if they’re on the spectrum, Fraser offers autism evaluations. And for adults with autism, Fraser has individual therapy, group therapy, support groups, career planning and employment services and various housing options.