Autism Spectrum Disorder In Adults

This is an unusual situation, as the diagnostic criteria for children have been updated in only the last ten years. Most adults on the spectrum have no idea that they have high functioning autism/ Asperger’s until other people start noticing strange behaviors in their loved ones. When they point it out to their significant others or adult children, it becomes a personal journey to self discovery.

A recent news story on NBC featured a husband and father who had the distinguishing characteristics of someone with high functioning autism. He had spent most of his life not knowing there was anything different about him that set him and his peculiarities apart from others. It was his wife of ten years that began to notice repetitive ritual behaviors, avoidance of loud noises, and misunderstandings in communication such that she had to reword whatever she said in a different and more direct manner so he would understand her better.

Once she had read up on autism and the associated behaviors, she recognized that her husband and the father of their two boys might have autism. When he went in to be diagnosed, the behavior analyst was able to see that he, quite clearly, was a high functioning adult with autism. This is pretty much how adults with autism spectrum disorders discover that they have it.

Rarer still are adults in group homes who were previously diagnosed as having mental retardation. Because autism was considered far too rare a disorder when they were children, their language and social deficits landed them the label of “mentally retarded”. These adult patients, when seen again now and reassessed, have been found not to be retarded, but actually adults with ASD. It takes their care program in a whole new direction, because most adults diagnosed thirty or more years ago with mental retardation who do not have it now were not allowed to go to traditional schools or were taught how to read if it was assumed they couldn’t learn.

Adults in the above situation are not too old to learn to speak, communicate, read or do anything else. If they obviously understand what is being said to them, then they can learn and benefit from treatments and therapy that children with autism have used for the last decade. Because there is so much focus on children with ASD, people have forgotten that there might be a lot of adults with ASD and that they too, could benefit from skills enhancing programs and therapy.

If you think that a loved one has either been misdiagnosed early in life or shows signs of an autism spectrum disorder, you can schedule an appointment with an applied behavior analyst and a neurologist who has experience reading brain scans of those with ASD. The high functioning adult will be able to consent to the testing on their own and should be encouraged to do so if the unusual behaviors have a tendency to interfere with daily life or relationships. Lower functioning individuals will need their physical/ medical guardian’s permission for the testing. Lower functioning adults may have problems with the Mild Mental Retardation (MMR) / brain scan testing, so it’s important to note that with the neurologist in advance and discuss options in how to proceed. High functioning adults may also have a problem if they don’t like being enclosed or the noises of the machine make them jumpy. Keep a diary of repetitive or seemingly obsessive behaviors, sensory defensiveness, a need for hyper stimulation, language and communication problems, and anything else that might help the analysts and doctors diagnose your adult loved one.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation

Just one of the many resources on autism, the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation (ASDF) puts forth a great deal of effort in helping those with autism, helping the parents who have children with autism, furthering the awareness of and research for autism, and linking many other autism resources to their site for people to make connections through.

The biggest thing the ASDF does is provide scholarships , financial assistance, and other forms of fiscal and technical support to families who can’t otherwise afford to care for their autistic child(ren) without making sacrifices in the other areas of basic needs. This is crucial, because autism doesn’t choose just the middle to upper class families to affect, and impoverished and lower class families struggle enough without having to worry about meeting the needs of their special needs children.

ASDF has resources to help children with equine therapy, social skills summer camps, iPads to assist with communication barriers, swim school programs and even film school programs. The extraordinary skills these children have are very gifted in a sense, and ASDF helps support the gifts the children have with these programs. They have several associate partners who provide all of the above, and parents can contact ASDF for more information on their programs.

It’s life changing what ASDF does and can do for you and families in similar financial straits. Their Christmas gift card program at this moment is one of the most monumental resources parents can receive, because the holidays are the most difficult time of the year, autistic children or no autistic children. Finding the means just to buy food and not even consider presents or presents that would aid their child’s therapeutic development is often impossible.

Parents can make contact with a representative through the ASDF website by filling in their contact form, by emailing them at, by calling or Skyping them at 877.806.0635 , faxing them at 484.423.2346, or directly snail mailing them at:

Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation
228 W. Lincoln Highway 301
Schererville, IN 46375

Their camp programs unfortunately, can only help your child if you live in North Carolina, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, and California. They are looking for other partners and to expand into other states, so if you know anyone that would like to donate time, services, money or anything else to ASDF, contact them about this too. The Giving Tree programs and financial assistance are available to anyone who can make a good case for assistance, and you never know unless you try.

The iPad program might work for you too, if you have a child whose attention is focused when it comes to electronic devices and is willing to learn from them but unable to assemble words and sentences without. It’s another program you have to apply for, but again, if it can help you and your child with ASD, why wouldn’t you at least make the effort?

If nothing else, ASDF might be able to point you in the direction of other foundations and organizations where you live that can help you, even if ASDF can’t. Any good resource helps you find another, and that is the focus of many autism resources after all. Parents can’t always find them on their own, but when they connect with one, they usually connect with a dozen with a single mouse click. Read our,  “Online Resources For Autism“.

Financial assistance for children with autism” and “Respite Care Information for Children with Autism


Hyperlexia And Other Coinciding Diagnoses/Traits

Years ago, cases of autism were considered rare. People who exhibited traits of this developmental disorder were often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all when their signs and symptoms were so slight. Those that were diagnosed as having autism were typically extreme, often exhibiting splinter skills that made them seem almost genius in some areas, but severely deficient in others. These particular autistic children and young adults were then referred to as “autistic savants”.

Today, even the most high-functioning of autistic children still exhibit these exceptional abilities. Doctors are diagnosing these “gifts” as coinciding diagnoses and traits. The most common are the following.

What is Hyperlexia

Taken from the two latin words, “hyper” which means more than usual, and “lexic” or “lexia” meaning the ability to read and understand the written word, hyperlexia then means a child is advanced in their reading and comprehension skills. Parents who report that their autistic children could often read and understand long before they could speak receive this coinciding diagnosis for their children. While quite common globally, in the U.S. it hasn’t as of yet completely caught on that this is a special skill exhibited by special needs children, although the occasional behavior analyst will recognize it.

Photographic/phonographic memory

This one is still up for debate because children with autism will fixate on a certain subject and learn absolutely everything there is to know about it. They will then recite, verbatim, what they have learned. While this is typical behavior for these children, if they go above and beyond and seem to recall everything they have heard and seen, they might have a photographic and/or phonographic memory.

Mathematical skills at a genius level

Some autistic children display an amazing ability to do difficult calculations in their heads or visualize three dimensional objects with specific dimensions. While this is indeed astounding to witness, these children might also have difficulty with simple multiplication or subtraction. Think “Rain Man” and the dropped box of toothpicks in the restaurant scene.

Art and Music

Studies have shown a definitive link between autism and giftedness in art and music. These creative areas of the brain originate in the right temporal lobe, where emotion also exists. Why this is, scientists still have to pinpoint, but these children can draw, paint, play an instrument, or sing as if they were born to do so.

True prodigies

Only ten percent of all children with autism exhibit true prodigy talent. This declaration occurs when an autistic child can play complicated pieces of music after only hearing it once or painting masterpieces without any formal training. In all other areas of their development and lives they lack the skills that most of us take for granted.

On the flip side…

Every spectrum has an up side and a down side. Many children with autism suffer with emotional problems, individual expression, meaningful communication if and when they are verbal, and even psychological disorders.


Because many autistic children are easily overwhelmed, anxiety is a quite common trait or co-diagnosis.


These children often struggle with expressing how they feel and with making meaningful social connections. As such, some develop depression.

Personality Disorders

Trying to cope in a world that doesn’t make sense to them, autistic children look for other ways to cope. If their parents are lacking in knowledge as to how best help them learn to cope in a healthy fashion or the school teachers haven’t made the effort, personality disorders might also become part of the package of issues.

Best approach, regardless

Remember, as a parent you can act for your child and with your child. It makes all the difference in the world to them.

DSM IV Criteria For Autism

Parents who want to know more about the autism spectrum but simply don’t shelve a copy of the DSM IV (the “bible” for psychologists and psychiatrists) in their public library don’t have to look far. You can check out a copy from your local library, or just sit and page through it if the library keeps it in their reference section of books that stay in the library but don’t go home.

Essentially, what the DSM IV will tell any curious reader about autism is this:

Six measurable areas of marked delay or inappropriate level of functioning for child’s age, which usually and most often include eye to eye contact, social interaction with others, verbal communication, gross motor or fine motor development, peer to peer connections, extreme fixation on specific items or topics, repetitive and focused movements or behaviors, preference for either extreme quiet or extreme noise, “savant” splinter skills, and a few other categories/characteristics.

This is a lot for most parents to process and without the aid of a specially trained and licensed autism psychiatrist, parents should not assume their child has this disorder. A pediatric neurologist is also needed to confirm the neurological alterations in the brain of any child suspected to have autism. Your family doctor can give you the proper referrals for these doctors and their tests.

Learn more about “what are the different types of autism“. Also How to deal “children with autism“.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

What Is Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders are fast becoming the most pervasive child development disability around. More common than Down’s Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy, autism spectrum disorders affect one in every four children in the United States. Out of those children, three out of four will be boys. Because the disorders have numerous conditions affecting child growth and development, no two children with autism are exactly alike and no two children with autism disorders have the same issues. It’s a complicated spectrum which requires numerous specialists and tests to properly diagnose and confirm the diagnosis. Most children with autism look completely normal from birth, and there is no prenatal test to check for the disorders, which only complicates the process as no pediatrician can look at a child and readily see that he or she will develop an autism disorder.
what is autism

Types of Autism

Because it’s difficult to determine just where on the spectrum a child with autism falls, there are several sets of diagnostic criteria as well as four major categories of autism. The four major categories of autism are: Autism, Aspergers, Autism Spectrum Affective Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS. In all cases children start their development after birth at a reasonably normal rate. Some might be slightly slower than their peers but since a child’s developmental markers are met at a slightly different age for every child, this is not an immediate concern. It becomes a concern however when the child in question can’t smile, focus on objects, sit up or walk, or interact with parents by the time he is a year to a year and a half old. Routine well baby visits with a pediatrician will help document whether the child is developing normally or should be referred to a specialist. Since many of these issues can also be attributed to other developmental delay disorders, all the other disorders have to be ruled out before Autism is considered. Read in details about, “types of autism

Autism Symptoms

What are the characteristics of autism? Straight up, “run of the mill” Autism addresses delays in more than one important area of development and usually has to be present in two to three areas for an extended and well-documented period of time. Children with Autism of the “regular” variety have speech delays and communication issues, either in their receptive or expressive communication, or both. They may be nonverbal all together, or they may make noises like humming, screaming, whining, or something akin to wordless singing. Conversely they will also exhibit advanced academic skills beyond that of children of the same chronological age. Repetitive movements like rocking on stationary furniture, spinning nonstop, wringing or flapping of the hands are characteristic of a child with autism and are done as a means of self stimulation and sensory input. Delays in toilet training, walking, running, throwing a ball, etc. are also possible as the muscle groups haven’t found a way to work together that the child with autism both understands and is comfortable with.
autism symptoms chart
A child with autism may also be sensory defensive, i.e., sounds, tastes, textures, sights, and smells may overwhelm and hyper stimulate them or the opposite end is also true where the child can’t make things loud enough(even though their hearing is excellent) or soft enough, or hard enough, or the texture of their food needs to be coarser or the tub water needs to be slightly less than tepid before they’ll get in. This has a lot to do with the fact that children with autism lack effective sensory filters and can’t filter and process everything separately. They may also be extremely picky eaters or suffer from pica, an eating disorder where unusual substances like dirt, oil, metal or other potentially harmful things are consumed if not removed from their reach. Fixations similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder that last from a few weeks to a few years are not uncommon either.

Asperger In Children

The child with Asperger’s on the other hand, will appear to develop in a completely normal fashion, hitting all the right development marks and even learning to speak at the right time. Speech is the biggest component in diagnostics when it comes down to assessing whether a child has autism or Asperger’s. The easiest thing to remember about the two is that Asperger’s children speak when they’re supposed to, children with autism do not. Because children with Asperger’s are not diagnosed until later in life because their developmental milestones are all hit on time, it makes it significantly harder to provide corrective therapy for them. Usually a parent will notice that their child of eight or nine doesn’t get along with his peers or that they have very few, if any, friends. Unlike a child with autism who doesn’t make eye contact a child with Asperger’s will, but it is often unsustainable and lasts seconds to a minute or two. They have trouble with expressions of speech, metaphors, idioms, and similes, which higher functioning and verbal children with autism also encounter. Language has to be direct and free of these types of verbal expression in order for these children to be understood and to understand those addressing them. It can be very frustrating for friends and family to alter the way they think and talk in order to make themselves understood to children with Aspbergers and high-functioning autism, but habitually it gets easier.

Probably the most frightening thing for parents of children with Asperger’s and high-functioning autism is when their child or children develop aggressive behaviors that are either hurtful to the child himself or to others. Forty years ago, such behaviors landed them in an institution; now early intervention and therapy can really help. It is still a good idea, however, to keep potential weapons out of the reach of children who are expressing anger and frustration with acts of violence. “who diagnoses Asperger’s?

Autism Spectrum Affective Disorders are argued by professionals to not exist. They feel that the child has to fall into a more specific category and level of functioning. Most times this diagnosis is only used in conjunction with a primary diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome or other more prominent and serious developmental delay. Thus the children with this secondary or tertiary diagnosis exhibit autism like behaviors, such as high intelligence quotients, hyperlexia, or outstanding rote memory skills in conjunction with diagnoses that should involve mental retardation.

Finally, Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS abbreviated, is the diagnosis handed to children who obviously fall within the spectrum but not enough evidence exists to make a clear cut diagnosis between Asperger’s and autism itself. Oftentimes little girls, who typically are thought to not be able to develop autism as it has been seen as a “boys’ developmental delay disorder”, but still exhibit autistic tendencies like their brothers or male peers will be diagnosed as PDD-NOS. As the child grows and his or her development can be more readily documented and tested by professionals, this diagnosis is changed to something more specific or dropped all together if it seems the child was just delayed for other causes and has caught up to his or her peers. Children who are diagnosed with PDD-NOS have a lot of the earmarks for autism or Asperger’s; delayed physical development, delayed social development, delayed language or ability to adequately express themselves, self-abuse or abuse of others, and significant hyper development of academics.

What to Do When Your Child is Diagnosed With Autism
finding out your child has autism
So what can be done if you discover that your child has an autism spectrum disorder? Lots, if it’s diagnosed early and you have plenty of medical documentation to back it up. Even high-functioning children with autism can get Federal Social Security and Disability Income, if the evidence shows that they problems they face are severe enough to interfere with everyday activities. Also, every state is a little different, but long term care waivers for children with autistic disorders have to be applied for before the child turns seven, eight or nine. These waivers then allow for long term care to be planned for and planned ahead, and in-home intensive therapy sessions with specially trained therapists aid the family, as well as the child into coping, managing and growing into a fairly well-adjusted and potentially productive adult, depending on the severity of the disorder and the patience, persistence and training of the therapist.

Some states will also add funds to the Federal SSDI funds every month for families that struggle financially and/or have more than one child with special needs. This fiscal assistance, in turn, helps parents find suitable childcare if they work or respite when they need a break from the challenges of the day with their child. The money is also used to shelter, care for, clothe, feed, and supply the child with an autistic spectrum disorder anything else they would need during the year, including co-pays for medicine and doctors’ visits. This makes a big impact on how children with these needs can stay at home rather than being institutionalized like they were so many years ago. “Can i get paid to take care of my autistic child?” or”Can I get SSI for my autistic child?

Many children with autism are also mainlined into the public schools now. This means that, if they can understand, talk and learn they spend time more inside a standard classroom than they do in a special education room. This aids them in learning the social skills they need to function later on and they are more of intellectual sponges than even their peers. They quickly learn everything and absorb even more because they do not have the filters everyone else has. Obviously then this is both a burden and a gift for them, a two-edged sword that can be managed with a good teacher at the head of the room.

Technology also plays a part in how these children communicate. Because of iPads and Smart Boards, these children can take what was once a paper and velcro system of communicating and apply it through technology. It is obvious to anyone who’s observed them that technology, for whatever reason, makes sense to these kids. Theoretically, it is because technology doesn’t require them to interact with humans nor provide eye contact nor make sense of phrases like “it’s raining cats and dogs” that children with autism spectrum disorders find it so much easier to communicate through and iPad or Smart Board. It does unfortunately defeat the purpose of treating the autism’s social and communicative hindrances, unless the child is completely nonverbal. Will my autistic child ever get better?

What Really Causes Autism

Lastly, it must be said. No one knows what causes autistic disorders. There are several theories but no one has the proof yet. What they do have are brain scans of children and adults with autism that clearly show a difference in structure and size, so medical scientists are working off of that proof to find the cause. In short it is a neurological issue, in that there is brain damage so to speak. There are no medications to prevent it, no medications to treat it, and nothing to cure it. It is more prevalent now, today, because more children are being diagnosed sooner and recorded in the data files of medicine, not that it’s more prevalent because something current is the cause.

The most recent and highly probable theory is that the mothers who have children with autism were extremely stressed and depressed during the pregnancy, which raised certain levels of biochemicals in the body and altered the child’s brain development in utero. There appears to be some link genetically as well, as some families have more than one child affected by an autistic spectrum disorder. There remains an insurmountable task by medical researchers to sift through all the true evidence and weed out the junk science to find that which causes the brains of these children to stop growing and functioning normally. With the advancements of genetic maps of genomes and hereditary conditions, as with Rhett’s Syndrome, which has been determined to have genetic marker codes and thought by some doctors to be part of the Autism Spectrum disorders, there will no doubt one day be an answer to the bizarre and confusing riddle that is Autism Spectrum Disorders, and hopefully a cure or prevention will follow.

Written by,
Kylie White