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The Emotional Impact
of Getting an Autism Diagnosis as an Adult

Autism is most often diagnosed in childhood, when children are not meeting the developmental markers that parents and pediatricians know they should be meeting by their age. However, for a variety of reasons, sometimes autism is diagnosed later in life and into adulthood. Like any diagnosis, receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult could carry a variety of emotions that range from relief to shock, to now having a deeper understanding of one’s self.
If you or a loved one are an adult who is suspected to be on the autism spectrum, the following article discusses the emotional impact of receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult, as well as what the process may be in getting a diagnosis from a professional in the field of neuropsychology.

What is it like to be diagnosed with autism as an adult?

Many people who do receive a diagnosis of autism in adulthood will usually say that they feel validated for the many ways they have struggled to fit in during their lifetime. It usually serves as an explanation to know themselves better, and feel a sense of peace that there is a justifiable reason for their differences- differences that can be celebrated and embraced.

Many adults who were undiagnosed until later in life have often reported that they were first diagnosed with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Receiving the proper autism diagnosis as an adult helped them develop a greater sense of identity and acceptance of themselves.

picture of a man who got an autism diagnosis as an adult

How is autism defined in adulthood?

Autism is a developmental condition that researchers believe occur sometime during gestation and signs can usually be observed by 2 or 3 years of age. Autism is a type of neurodivergence, which is really about how the brain is organized and how it processes information. It can affect a person’s way of relating to others, including the way they speak and communicate, and with different types of behavior they may display. It is not the same thing as social awkwardness or giftedness and it does not affect a person’s level of intelligence or intellect.

Autism is also a spectrum, so people who experience these differences will vary in how much difficulty they may have living day to day. Some people who have autism do not have significant difficulty relating to others and their diagnosis doesn’t impact their quality of life.

Autism is defined by the DSM-5 as:

  • Deficits in social and emotional reciprocity; deficits in non verbal communication including decreased eye contact; and deficits in adjusting behavior depending on social settings as well as difficulties maintaining and understanding relationships. One usually shows decreased capacity for imaginative play.
  • Hyper focused interests and rigidity in routines.
  • Significant sensitivity to sensory input.
  • Symptoms must be present in early development.

Why is autism sometimes missed in childhood?

Autism is being diagnosed more and more in children, perhaps because we now have a better sense of signs to look for and improved screenings. However, many more adults are now receiving autism diagnoses than they did twenty years ago. Many experts believe this to be due to increased awareness that encourages parents and individuals to seek out a diagnosis.

In childhood, some people with high functioning autism may have been successful in their academics and perhaps in spoken language as well due to high intelligence. This may have led teachers and parents to not suspect autism since they may have appeared studious, focused, and diligent. For others, they have been misdiagnosed with an intellectual disability or sometimes attention deficit disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or social anxiety disorder. Although it’s possible for autism to go undiagnosed until adulthood, for a diagnosis to be met, symptoms need to have been present in childhood development.

Who can diagnose autism in adults?

Autism is a collection of traits that must meet criteria to be diagnosed, and a proper diagnosis must be made by a qualified professional who has experience and training in neurodiversity and developmental disorders.
The best place to begin to look for a neuropsychological assessment is with your primary care doctor or with your health insurance provider. From there, they can usually refer you to a psychologist who is trained to assess and diagnose developmental conditions. They will connect you with a specialist who is qualified- one who has clinical experience working with this population.

Does an autism diagnosis as an adult matter?

Diagnosis sometimes feels like a dirty word. In a world where there is still stigma around disabilities and mental health, it’s understandable that one might be worried about getting an autism diagnosis as an adult. When it comes to your wellness, it should be your choice to seek out a diagnosis or not. A diagnosis is meant to make your life better and help you to feel validated. It can also connect a person to resources that make sense for their life, such as networks or groups of like minded people, peer support services, behavioral counseling, or disability benefits. If you don’t feel a diagnosis would be beneficial, you don’t need to get one. If you do receive a diagnosis that doesn’t feel right to you, you should seek a second or third opinion.

What Does an Evaluation Entail?

During an evaluation, the specialist will take a comprehensive look at your history including early development and milestones. They may administer a number of assessments and questionnaires that are designed to assess for autistic traits. The specialist is really looking at the big picture, and putting together bits and pieces of your whole history and functioning. Here at Aspire Neuropsychological Services, we offer neuropsychological evaluations.

If this article resonates with you, or if you are an adult who would like more support with your Autism diagnosis, contact our clinical team today. We would be pleased to connect you with the right member of our clinical team.