understanding autism

Signs in adults

Knowing the signs

Autistic adults can fly under the radar and not recognise they may be on the autism spectrum until later in life.

You may recognise signs of autism in yourself at any age.

Historically, autism was generally identified in children and predominantly in males. These days we have a better understanding of autism and its presentation across genders. This has led to better recognition of signs that could indicate a person is autistic.

Recognising the signs of autism as an adult often comes through personal reflection. You may initially learn about autism through a family member or a friend who has been diagnosed. You may identify with their personal journey and feel a connection with them.

This can also occur if you have a child who receives a diagnosis of autism. You may not have heard of autism prior to this, but through learning about your child’s autism, you can identify with it.

Some examples of traits and signs

According to some autistic adults, here are some common experiences adults may have before recognising they may be autistic:

  • Feeling as if you do not fit in, especially with groups of people, friends, co-workers and even family
  • Difficulty reading between the lines
  • Taking things literally
  • Feeling highly sensitive to the environment (e.g. a dislike of shopping centres because they have bright lights and are very noisy)
  • A strong sense of justice
  • Extreme levels of empathy
  • Feeling overwhelmed by world events
  • Too-strong attention to detail
  • Difficulty with regulating emotions
  • A dislike of small talk and office chit-chat
  • Appearing blunt or direct in conversation
  • Feeling like an alien or outsider, that you were born in the wrong era
  • Feeling like people do not understand or ‘get’ you
  • Difficulty with communication and knowing what to say in a conversation
  • Becoming mute and highly anxious in social situations
  • Feeling you have missed out on receiving the ‘handbook’ of social expectations, understanding the ‘hidden curriculum’
  • Being naïve, easily manipulated or fooled
  • Feeling animals understand you better than people
  • Rather spend more time alone or doing activities by yourself
  • Getting overwhelmed in large social situations (e.g. Christmas and birthday parties)
  • Rather work alone than in a group
  • Feeling lonely and alienated by society.

Getting a diagnosis

Seeking and undertaking a formal diagnosis is very much a personal choice.

Many autistic adults find that getting a diagnosis is helpful and validating. You learn how to work to your strengths and to identify what may be challenging. It can also bring a sense of relief, recognising that you are just different and not defective or broken.

Learning more about yourself and autism will be beneficial whatever pathway you choose.

More information on knowing the signs of autism in adults.

Helpful resources



Online self-tests:

If you want to do a basic screening before getting a diagnosis then here are some tools to consider
Autism: What Next?

The first free digital toolkit - a central hub to help individuals and families navigate the first year following an autism diagnosis.

Visit here