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Do Adults Get Autism?
Although many associate autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with children, more adults have sought an ASD diagnosis as awareness has increased over the years.
ASD has a wide variance in symptoms and mostly-child specific diagnostic criteria. Because of this, adults may find receiving a diagnosis challenging.
“It’s still rare for an adult to receive an autism diagnosis,” says Gregory P. Giron, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist with Carson Tahoe Health’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services. “It’s a developmental disorder, and we usually find it in toddlers and preschoolers rather than adults.”
Dr. Giron treats patients from 3 to 80 years old. While it’s been uncommon in the past to diagnose an adult with autism, he’s seeing more men and women diagnosed.
How Is Autism in Adults Diagnosed?
An autism exam involves getting the patient’s history and asking a series of questions. These questions are usually about the patient’s early childhood and any experience with developmental issues.
“While there’s a likelihood they have it, it’s a wide spectrum, and we have to rule out other things,” Dr. Giron explains. “It could look like autism, but it could be social anxiety.”
During the two- to four-hour exam, Dr. Giron observes if the person has difficulty communicating and determines their social comfort level.
“Social communication is a big part of what I’m looking for,” he says.
Less common methods of diagnosing ASD include brain scans and genetic testing to potentially rule out other factors.
How Is Autism in Adults Treated?
Specific treatment will likely need to address the challenges each patient experiences. Some patients may have trouble with relationships, difficulties at work, or feelings of depression or anxiety. Therapy and medications may be helpful. Some adults also benefit from engagement in online forums and support groups, which aim to improve quality of life.
Do Boys and Girls Experience Autism Differently?
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that boys are three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Because of the sex bias associated with these numbers, girls have a disproportionate risk of going undiagnosed.
“The reality is that boys and girls may have different vulnerabilities,” Dr. Giron says. “This matters because autism is a developmental disorder.”
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that, due to brain differences, girls with autism exhibit less repetitive and restrictive behavior than boys with the disorder. Awareness of these differences may aid future development of sex-specific treatment.