You may have seen videos on social media where people detail the signs that made them realize they have autism. Viewers find it enlightening and comforting because so many people—mostly women—go undiagnosed as they reach adulthood.
According to Dr. Megan Anna Neff, a clinical psychologist in Oregon State, a recent study found that 80% of women with autism were still undiagnosed by age 18.
There are many reasons for this: For starters, people learn to adjust their behavior to fit society. in addition to, Stephanie Gardner Wright, a licensed social worker specializing in autism in Michigan, said the autism diagnostic tools used today were developed exclusively on white boys of higher socioeconomic status.
Gardner-Wright said there’s also a lot of focus on external rather than internal symptoms of autism. These internal symptoms vary greatly from person to person.
“There are many ways that autism can present and manifest,” Neff added. “I think there is more diversity within autism than there is between autism and autism.” (Supporters are people who are not on the autism spectrum.)
so he said, There are a number of signs or thought patterns that undiagnosed autistic people may be able to relate to. HuffPost spoke with mental health professionals, including some who disagree neurologically about signs of autism in adulthood:
Feeling “different” from others
The four experts shared that it is common for autistic people to feel differently. Some people would describe it as “I feel like an alien sometimes,” while Dr. Vanessa Pal, director of the Psychological Services Center for Adult Autism Services at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said people describe it as ” A lifetime experience of feeling different.”
The difference between this feeling and the occasional external feeling that everyone deals with from time to time, Pal said, is that for people with autism, that feeling doesn’t come and go and doesn’t just happen during one specific period, like middle school.
Gardner-Wright added that this is a big indicator and an insider’s experience at that — you can’t look at someone and tell if they feel like an outsider. The feeling could be overwhelming or it could be more subtle, she said, depending on the person.
It’s important to know that people with autism don’t necessarily feel like strangers all the time, Pal said. They may find more inclusive settings for nerve-wracked people. In addition, some adults also say they feel more comfortable with who they are and don’t worry as much about differences, sometimes seeing them as strengths, as they get older, Pal said.
Difficulty dealing with social cues
Social cues are also another sign. Gardner-Wright said that someone with undiagnosed autism may have difficulty understanding the appropriateness of eye contact or when they should stop smiling during a conversation. She added that she may be able to mask these uncertainties by knowing how much is appropriate, but it is not an innate sense as with an allied person.
History of a confusing relationship – romantically or platonially
According to Neff, many adults with undiagnosed autism have confusing and complex social relationship histories. Plus, romantic relationships can feel difficult to navigate.
“There may be relationships that kind of suddenly exploded but the person with autism doesn’t understand why,” she said. When it comes to the reasoning behind such a complex relationship history, it is likely that the person with autism does not know why their relationships fail when others do not.
Sensitivity to sensory input — such as noise and sight — is another possible sign of autism, Gardner-Wright said, adding that this could mean being highly aware of sound or not fully aware.
She said that people without autism tend to be more or less responsive to sensory stimuli.
For example, a person with autism may find that they are constantly aware of the ticking clock at a friend’s house or really sensitive to the sound of a loud siren, Gardner-Wright points out.
Desire for routine
Many autistic people thrive on consistency. “The world we occupy is more mysterious and unpredictableable. So we go into routines, Neff said, as a way of self-soothing. When a routine is disrupted, strong feelings may emerge, including extreme irritability or anxiety.
Gardner-Wright added that the routine doesn’t need to be too strict either; It’s a common misconception when people think about the daily schedule of people with autism. Alternatively, it may be a strong preference for a particular cup each morning. Routine looks different to different people.
In addition, big changes can also be difficult. “if They move [homes] or commuting to their jobs, it could lead to a season of restlessness or anxiety.”
Routine can extend to certain behaviors as well. It also includes repetitive body movements, which are known as stimming, Neff added. According to the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Pennsylvania, coloring behaviors can include body shaking, hand flapping, spinning, rubbing a specific surface and squeaking.
The need for solitude
Another common sign? “Need solitude to recharge after really social or hyperstimulating situations – and overstimulation can be different for everyone – but this is a very distinct trait [autism]Gardner Wright said. This could mean feeling completely exhausted after a job offer or a family party.
This fatigue, Pal said, comes from a term known as “camouflage” or “disguise.” “This is the idea that you should hide different aspects of yourself or different behaviors in order to fit in with what you think of the expectations around you.”
And while we all do this sometimes, it may result in the degree to which autistic people have to hide aspects of themselves.
s Feeling completely drained, Pal said, they then reported spending long periods of time alone or in dark, quiet places to recover.
From the outside, Tessers added, people have no idea when someone is camouflaged. TThey do what everyone wants or more or less expects of them.” This may seem like acting like it “should” at work, Tessers noted, but coming home shattered and dreading the idea of having to do that faux pas all over again tomorrow.
More intense interests
Deep curiosity and passion for a particular person activity Or the topic could also evolve. “Our brains tend to be drawn with a lot of passion towards our area of interest and we invest a lot in those areas and it’s also a way we calm ourselves,” Neff said. This could mean building a career around a particular interest or knowing all about a particular hobby.
And although everyone has interests — and many people have strong interests — Neff said people with autism are likely to find a way to tie everything to their own interests. For example, this might look like finding a way to talk about a favorite TV show even when the conversation is about current events.
“Challenging people can have a special interest, but then it doesn’t become their lens for their whole world,” Neff said.
Hate small talk
Most people don’t like small talk, but for people with autism, it can feel overwhelming or something that shouldn’t happen.
“They usually don’t enjoy small talk and may find ways to avoid it,” Neff said. “Maybe they’ve built their life or career in a way that they don’t have to make a lot of that allied connection.”
Gardner-Wright added that people on the spectrum tend to prefer deep, meaningful conversations.
Desire for direct communication
People with autism thrive on straightforwardness, with “Really honest, clear communication is a strong preference,” Gardner-Wright said.
Neff said that people with autism tend to be somewhat literal. For example, when she says “It’s raining cats and dogs,” she said, autistic people may picture cats and dogs falling from the sky in their minds, but then realize that the person speaking is referring to rain.
“So, actually, I think it’s probably more accurate to say we’re visual in our communication style versus literally, but it often comes across as verbatim,” Neff said. In addition, the communication style can be described as direct and honest. “wHat we say, we tend to say at face value,” Neff added.
If you think you have these signs, look up autism sounds for guidance.
Gardner-Wright and Neff recommend exploring the hashtag #actuallyautistic on social media to hear from live experiences and to hear from people in your own community about how that works for them.
“Discovering that you’re autistic as an adult can really validate that,” Gardner-Wright said. It can help you fully understand yourself and your life. “But there can also be a grieving process to that,” she said, as you may wish you had that information as a child, so some situations may be different.
“Feeling a mixture of sadness and excitement is very normal,” Gardner-Wright said.
Plus, embrace-autism.com is a helpful resource for free screening tools and quizzes to help you understand if you have autism—though they’re not diagnostic, they’re just online guides to help arm you with information, Gardner-Wright points out.
You can also reach out to mental health professionals.
Neff said it might be helpful to reach out to a therapist to talk about this new finding, but she stressed that it’s important to find someone who is confirmed or knowledgeable about neurostimulation.
Pal agreed and said “We have a long way to go in terms of training medical professionals and mental health professionals about autism. I am concerned that there is a lot of misinformation and misconceptions out there.”
Pal added that you can also search for autism centers near you for diagnosis or treatment, but he noted that many have a year-long waiting list and may only focus on children. If they don’t work for you, Pal said, you can ask if they have resources they recommend, or look up autism community organizations to see if they have any.
In addition, a community of supportive people can also be helpful, as the hashtag #actuallyaustic – or other online communities – can be helpful.