When searching for information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), most of the articles are about autism in children. However, people are adults for much longer than they are children, so they too must find a way to function in society. Autism is not a childhood disorder – it is lifelong.
Most cases of autism are diagnosed in childhood, but this isn’t always the case. Some people have grown up not knowing they have this disorder but realize they feel “different” from others. This can make the school and working years difficult, and it can raise a person’s risk for mental health and substance use disorders.
While kids can develop skills and workarounds as they get older, an adult will not just grow out of autism. They are still diagnosable even as an adult. Below are seven facts to know about adult autism.
1. Many of the symptoms of ASD in childhood are the same in adulthood.
Adults with autism are usually better at masking the signs and symptoms of their disorder, but this doesn’t mean they’re not present. In fact, the signs and symptoms are mostly the same regardless of someone’s age. Adults with autism may have difficulty relating to people and understanding their emotions. They may carry out repetitive actions or get fixated on routines.
2. There are two tests that can help diagnose ASD in adults.
Clinicians have developed several different tests to help doctors diagnose adults with ASD. These include the ADOS 2 Module 4, ADI-R and 3Di Adult. However, it’s unclear how accurate these tests are. They have also not been studied enough in certain groups, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
3. Roughly 27 percent of adults with autism are unemployed.
A study on the services and outcomes of adults with ASD found that 27 percent of participants were unemployed. There are a number of barriers that stand in the way such as compromised communication skills and limited support services. The good news is that many adults with autism are capable of working with the right support.
4. There are benefits to getting diagnosed with autism in adulthood.
Not every adult with ASD may want or need a diagnosis because they’ve learned to cope with their challenges. But there are benefits to being diagnosed:
- An explanation for the challenges the person is facing
- Friends and family members can have a better understanding of the person’s struggles
- Access to various services and benefits, including in the workplace
- Replaces an incorrect diagnosis like ADHD
5. Untreated ASD can increase the risk for substance use.
According to a Tawainese study, people with autism had a significantly higher risk for a substance use disorder than those without autism. This study highlighted the importance of getting a proper diagnosis so that the right treatment and support services can be provided. Otherwise, the challenges that individuals with autism face can lead them to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
6. Those with autism are more likely to have a mental health disorder.
Research shows that people with autism have a higher chance of developing a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety or OCD. This is believed to be the case because co-occurring mental health disorders develop from a set of complex factors like brain chemistry and genetics. Also, having both disorders raises the risk for substance use because people are trying to cope with a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
7. Treatment is available for autism, but there is no cure.
There is no cure for autism. Instead, treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and improving functioning. Even adults can benefit from treatment. Here are some examples of treatment options for adult autism:
- Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Social skills training
- Sensory integration therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Medication (i.e., anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antipsychotics, stimulants)
Awakenings Treatment Center Treats Adults with Substance Use and Autism
Awakenings Treatment Center works with adults who have autism and substance use or mental illness. We understand why these conditions sometimes occur together and the best treatment approaches for managing overlapping symptoms. Our multidisciplinary approach combines specific social skills training, individual and group support, and family therapy.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use and autism, contact Awakenings Treatment Center today. We have the tools, resources, and education to support you!