Autism Spectrum Disorder
by Lauren Castriota, Psy.D.
Are you an adult concerned that a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might be relevant to you? Do you have concerns about an adult friend or family member who might be on the autism spectrum?
As an adult, coming to the realization that you might be on the autism spectrum can feel scary and overwhelming. Maybe you are reading this information for yourself, or maybe you have a loved one in mind. Many adults, both young and old, have spent their lifetime with a myriad of professionals “trying to figure out what is wrong.” Individuals may demonstrate difficulty communicating, have limited friendships, awkward interactions, difficulty maintaining employment, limited insight into emotions, relationships, and self-awareness, intense interests, and repetitive behaviors. With diagnoses over the years like ADHD, OCD, Anxiety, Bipolar, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which just don’t quite explain everything...sometimes Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) might be the missing piece to the puzzle. So what happens next?
Seeking an evaluation with a clinician who has extensive training in and understanding about diagnosing ASD in adults is important in order to be able to differentiate among all of the diagnostic possibilities. The evaluation I conduct for adults looking to determine if they might be on the autism spectrum consists of a few parts, as follows:
1. It starts with an in depth interview with a parent or someone who knew the client as a child to be able to delve into their early childhood with regard to ASD characteristics.
2. The client and a close family member, spouse, or friend will complete a few different rating forms about the client to learn more about current ASD symptoms, general social and emotional difficulties, and how they are functioning on a day to day basis.
3. Finally, the client will come for a testing session which consists of a test of intellectual functioning and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2), The ADOS-2 is considered the gold standard in differentiating ASD from other diagnoses.
4. The feedback session will offer insight into the unveiled diagnoses and recommendations on what to do next.
So, what can be done to support an adult diagnosed with ASD? Whether it is a new diagnosis or an individual who is transitioning into adulthood with their childhood diagnosis, there are some options.
Individual therapy can be beneficial for adults with ASD to work on concrete items such as time management, setting up a daily schedule, learning new chores, being successful in a job, and money management. Therapy can also be helpful for an individual to gain a better understanding of their own and other’s emotions, practice coping skills to use when feeling anxious and/or depressed, and learn important skills like self-advocacy, small talk, and mindfulness. In my practice, I use a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) informed approach because of its straightforward, visual, and step-by-step approach to teaching skills in the areas of Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.
Groups can also be helpful for an adult with ASD because they provide a safe place to practice social interactions without fear of rejection or embarrassment. There are a variety of organizations offering groups for adults. Some qualities to look for in a group setting include: professionally trained staff, inclusive setting, and age-appropriate activities.
Medication is sometimes a consideration for this population. While there is no medicine to treat ASD, it may be prescribed to help ease the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and inattention. Seeking support from a psychiatrist with an understanding of ASD can add extra benefits because they have an understanding of how different diagnoses work together and they can offer the medications that will be most effective for your particular profile.
Specific referrals for therapists, groups and psychiatrists can be discussed in order to determine the best fit for you and your family.
Adults with ASD can find comfort in knowing that there are other people similar to them who share their struggles and strengths. Seeking support through formal diagnosis, therapy, and groups can help an individual feel less alone in their struggles and challenges. If you are concerned about yourself or someone you love, please get in touch with us today so we can help guide you on the most appropriate next steps for you and your family.
You can reach Dr. Lauren Castriota at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling our office at extension 725.