Autism in Adults PART 2

autism playing

Autism in Adults...

Parenting a young child with autism comes with all sorts of challenges and joys, but they grow up! And parenting doesn’t end when they turn 18. Parenting an autistic adult has brought NEW challenges and NEW joys. Read more in this 4-part series of about what autism in adults looks like. 

What are the signs of autism in adults?

Previously, I shared a little about my son’s journey with autism and where he is today, at 24. Such a great guy. But autism is a slippery little sucker and manifests uniquely in each individual, and this is true for autism in adults. It is also much better identified and well-known in the young child, so I thought it might be fun to just look at the actual medical criteria and what it looks like in a young man who was medically diagnosed as a child and went through a significant amount of therapy over the years. How does it manifest in him today? Well, let’s take a look…

So here is the actual ASD diagnostic criteria. I took each piece and just shared an example or explanation of what it looks like in my 24-year-old Level 1 guy. Remember, Level 1 means what used to be called “high-functioning,” but we don’t really use that term, anymore. Not sure why, exactly, so I’ll just use the medical term “Level 1.”

Disclaimer! This is what it looks like in MY SON, and the old adage hold true: If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism. Experiences are unique, so take this for what you will. It was just a fun exercise for me to go through! (Read about his own thoughts on autism that he wrote when he was in 5th grade.)

Autism and Deficits in Social Communication and Interaction

A. Deficits in social communication and social interaction

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity

Normal speak: Back-and-forth conversation or interactions with another person, sharing enjoyment, sharing interests, emotional responses to someone else.

autism showing interest

Dude does pretty well in this area. He is a sweet young man, he is affectionate with family, and cares about feelings and emotional states of family. He can carry on a conversation and handle himself in a new situation. He can talk with someone new for small amounts of small talk. He can do a job interview.

He does have some dysfluencies in speech, he can sound pedantic or monotone, he doesn’t always know how to bounce off of what someone else is saying and respond. He doesn’t generally ask probing/interested questions to learn about someone except for what he’s been taught. BUT, he has also been taught a LOT, so he gets by just fine. He learns like a sponge which is why he did so well in ABA and other therapies. The deficits are still there, but he has some great tools that he has learned to use.

This is not a huge area of need. He can be seen as shy, awkward, but makes and enjoys a few close connections. A future mate might need to know not take it personally if they seem more invested in the relationship than he is. Remember, he is kind and sweet and loving; he just enjoys the solo life, and he doesn’t have a large “social” bucket that needs to be filled.

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction

Normal speak: Not observing, recognizing, or understanding nonverbal language like facial expressions, gestures, body language, nonverbal utterances like sighing or whistling (with meaning).

autism nonverbal cues

He is pretty good about identifying nonverbal language in others but struggles more with his own. He isn’t aware that he furrows his brow when he’s thinking or is processing something in such a way that he looks angry. He doesn’t realize that some of his tone of voice comes across as rude when people don’t understand what his thought process is. He doesn’t generally look in the mirror and adjust what he looks like to match whatever he’s about to do. He has learned the hidden rules of a lot of situations so he wears deodorant, he brushes his teeth, he doesn’t walk around naked. But he generally has to be told those hidden rules, like he doesn’t know you shouldn’t take a dump in the powder room when people are in the kitchen right next to the door. Go find another bathroom, buddy. 🙂

To be most successful with him, some should be direct, but loving. There are So Many hidden rules in life. He may not pick up on them. We need to tell him. Once he learns a rule, he’s good about following it. Just don’t be offended if he does something that makes you or someone else feel uncomfortable because he probably has no idea!

He also doesn’t like to be told he’s wrong, so it’s best to think of these things ahead of time or remind him of a rule long after one has occurred. Save yourself the grief. In fact, BEST scenario is if you can get HIM to figure it out on his own, like it’s his own idea. That’s the sweet spot.

3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships

Normal speak: Friendshipping and relationship skills akin to other persons their age.

autism friendships

He has good, close, and caring relationships with family members and maybe a couple friends during college that shared some interests. With that said, if the entire world was taken over by the zombie apocalypse but his computer and phone still worked, he’d probably be juuuuussssstttt fine. At least for a while. Until, you know, the zombies.

He is kind and loving but doesn’t necessarily think of things that would make another person happy (lacks theory of mind). He probably won’t remember your birthday or, if he does, think to do anything for it. He probably won’t help you with the dishes if you’ve had a long day at work. He probably will only rarely ask about your day.

BUT, if you tell him to please help with the dishes or take out the trash, he will happily do so. If you remind him your birthday is coming and that you really like dark chocolate, you might get just that. And if you tell him straight up, “I had a rotten day,” he will probably ask you what happened. Just be direct! He wants to please and is loving and caring; he just needs a little direction (as do many of the men I have known in life!).

Next blog, breaking down the diagnostic criteria — Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

Find a bunch of social emotional learning resources here!

For more on this blog series:

Part 1: Quick intro before we get to the diagnosis

Part 2 (this blog): Breaking down the diagnostic criteria Deficits in social communication and social interaction

Part 3: Breaking down the diagnostic criteria Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities

Part 4: Breaking down the diagnostic criteria All the rest

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Hi! I'm Audra!

I am a special education teacher, behavior analyst, and parent to an autistic adult. I love sharing the insights and resources I have gleaned over the past 25 years. Thanks for being here!

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