Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Adults

Main Content

Learning About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Adults

What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder. It affects a person's behaviour. And it makes communication and social interactions hard.

ASD can range from mild to severe. The type of symptoms a person has and how severe they are varies. Some adults who have ASD may not be able to function without a lot of help from parents and other caregivers. Others may learn social and verbal skills and be able to care for themselves.

Most people who have ASD will always have some trouble when they communicate or interact with others. But treatment for ASD has helped many people who have it to lead full lives.

ASD now includes conditions that used to be diagnosed separately. These include:

  • Autism.
  • Asperger's syndrome.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder.

You or your doctor might use any of these terms to describe the condition.

What are the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults?

Adults with ASD have some symptoms in these areas:

Communication and social interactions.

Symptoms may include:

  • Problems using or responding to gestures or pointing, facial expressions, and body posture. And there may be problems making eye contact.
  • Problems making friends or dating. And there may be problems bonding with a child or partner. Or there may be problems working with colleagues.
  • Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests, or achievements with others.
  • Problems starting a conversation.
Repetitive behaviours and limited interests in activities.

Symptoms may include:

  • Getting attached to objects or topics.
  • A strong need for sameness and routines.
  • Repetitive use of language. An adult with ASD may keep repeating a phrase they have heard.

How severe the symptoms are varies. Some symptoms, like repetitive behaviours, may get better over time.

Adults with ASD may have other problems. These include:

  • Speech and language issues.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.

How is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults diagnosed?

ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood. That's when parents may notice developmental delays and behaviour issues. But if a child's symptoms are mild or mistaken for another condition, ASD may not be noticed until later in life.

To diagnose ASD, the doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and past health.
  • Ask about your childhood development. The doctor may ask parents or siblings if, as a child, you had:
    • Any language delays.
    • Problems learning or interacting with others.
    • Any behaviours that seemed unusual.
  • Ask a partner, family member, or friend how you behave or interact with others at home and at work.
  • Ask if there's a family history of ASD.
  • Watch how you interact with others during your exam.

You may have other tests. These are to see if another problem is causing symptoms.

The doctor will use all of this information, along with their own judgment, to diagnose ASD.

How is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adults treated?

Treatment may include:

Behaviour and social skills training.

This can help you learn how to:

  • Get organized and manage your time.
  • Communicate better and speak up for yourself.
  • Develop skills needed to go to university or get a job.
  • Form and keep relationships.
Job skills training.

This can help you learn how to:

  • Prepare for interviews and help you learn other skills needed to find work.
  • Find a job that focuses on your strengths.
  • Talk to an employer about special needs you may have.

On-the-job training and coaching can help you:

  • Get work experience.
  • Develop skills needed to get work done.
  • Set and achieve work goals.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy might be used to treat anxiety and depression.
  • Couples and family therapy can help improve relationships.

Medicines might be used to treat ASD symptoms. These include being cranky or hyperactive. Sometimes medicine is used to treat other problems, like anxiety and depression.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter S223 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Adults".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.