How Is Adult Autism Diagnosed?

Learn about symptoms, self-checks, and professional evaluations

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Autism tests for adults exist, though most people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are diagnosed as children. More adults are being identified later in life as autism is better understood. However, an adult autism diagnosis can only be made by a healthcare professional qualified to make an autism diagnosis, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

A comprehensive autism assessment relies on several factors, including:

  • Your own observations about how you communicate in social situations and if you have any sensory sensitivities
  • Reports about odd behaviors or movements, as well as outbursts
  • Results of self-screening questionnaires, such as the Ritvo Autism Asperger Diagnostic Scale–Revised (RAADS–R)
  • Results of clinical evaluations and observations

This article will help you to understand how an adult autism diagnosis is made. It covers traits and behaviors to look for, self-screening tools, and how a mental health professional typically approaches evaluating an adult for the condition while ruling out other possibilities.

A woman talking to her doctor
Tochen Sands Collection / Digital Vision / Getty Images 


Adults diagnosed with autism are likely to be at the mild or high-functioning end of the spectrum. While not itself a diagnosis, high-functioning autism describes specific symptoms and behaviors.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose conditions, this is known as "level 1 severity."

Many adults have mild symptoms of autism, which typically relate to social communication and sensory responses.

However, it's often not until they become more aware of what ASD is that they consider the possibility for themselves. Some may only realize it after a son or daughter is diagnosed with ASD and they notice similarities between the child's traits, behaviors, or feelings and their own.

Social Communication Symptoms

These have to do with how you interact with other people. You may realize you've had some of these symptoms since you were a child, but you've learned to hide or manage them.

  • You aren't sure what to wear or when to speak or be quiet in social situations.
  • You use the wrong tone or word choice while talking to other people. You may speak too loudly when you should keep your voice down.
  • You have trouble interpreting other people's body language or words.
  • You struggle to keep up with conversations, especially when you aren't interested in the topic. It's especially hard for you to make small talk.
  • You're so fascinated by a particular topic you find it almost impossible to change the subject.
  • You aren't sure when it's appropriate to ask certain questions or to speak up; you may feel so uncertain you simply don't say anything at all.
  • You have a hard time coping with change. You may stick to the same schedule, eat the same foods, and take the same route to work every day, becoming upset if your routines are interrupted.

Anxiety and Autism

Symptoms of anxiety often coexist in people living with an ASD diagnosis. This is especially common in biological women and girls, whose ASD may be overlooked or misdiagnosed before a diagnosis of ASD is determined.

Sensory and Behavioral Symptoms

Many of these are common in all people with ASD, but may not be as obvious in those with mild autism. They may seem more like quirks than symptoms of autism.

  • You're very sensitive to light, sound, smell, touch, and taste and do not like being touched or hugged.
  • You may need physical pressure to feel calm. You may hug yourself tight if you're upset, for example.
  • You move in strange ways or make odd sounds. This is a form of self-calming called stimming. Examples include pacing, rocking, hair-twirling, and humming. If you're in public, people may stare at you, but you can't stop the behavior.
  • You have "autistic meltdowns." You get very frustrated and upset, find it impossible to control your words and actions, and may even frighten other people.

Self Tests

Self-screening tools for ASD are questionnaires you can take yourself. Most are available online at no cost. They can't confirm if you have autism. However, they can help you decide if you should see a professional to be formally evaluated.

Among the most common self-screening tools for ASD are:

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10): This is a 10-question screening tool adapted from a much longer questionnaire called the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ). The AQ-10 is a very popular screening tool, but note that some research shows this shorter version may not be the most reliable way to identify someone with autism. The AQ-10 test is available online.
  • Adult Repetitive Behaviours Questionnaire-2 (RBQ-2A): This 20-item questionnaire focuses on "restricted and repetitive behaviors."It's been found to be a highly effective screening tool for autism. The RBQ-2A also is available online.
  • Adult Social Behavior Questionnaire (ASBQ): The 44 questions in this tool focus on a wide range of aspects of autism in adults. It's especially effective for picking up on mild ASD. It can be used to evaluate someone else, as well as a self-test.

Professional Evaluations

The only way to get an accurate adult autism diagnosis is to see a professional. They will observe your behavior, including how you speak and interact with them.

They will also have you complete one or more evaluations that are more detailed than those you take yourself. In most cases, you will do this by answering questions the practitioner asks you out loud.

Who to See

Some health professionals may not immediately consider autism as a possible diagnosis for an adult. Women with ASD, in particular, are often overlooked.

That's why you should seek an evaluation from someone with experience diagnosing ASD if you decide you need to be evaluated. Ideally, this person will have a background working with adults, but this may be hard to find.

In that case, you may want to try looking for a developmental pediatrician, a child psychiatrist, or a pediatric neurologist who specializes in autism and would consider evaluating an adult.

You might also look for a local autism center with a good reputation. One option is a center that belongs to the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network.

Autism Tests for Adults

Autism tests for adults may include several options. Among the tests you may be asked to take are:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) Module 4: The ADOS-2 is the gold standard for diagnosing autism in people of all ages. Module 4 is used specifically for adults and is not a questionnaire. Instead, the professional administering the test will observe how you respond to certain prompts. They evaluate both what you say and how you behave.
  • Developmental, Dimensional, and Diagnostic Interview-Adult Version (3Di-Adult): This standard tool for diagnosing adult autism focuses on how you communicate and interact in social situations. It also looks for restricted interests, such as an obsession with a particular object, and certain behaviors.
  • Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS): This 65-question test assesses social deficits, and is often used as part of a comprehensive battery of tests used to diagnose autism.
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R): This test focuses on the three main areas affected by autism: language and communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors or interests. There are 93 questions in the ADI-R.

Could It Be Asperger Syndrome?

Asperger syndrome was once considered a separate autism-like disorder. However, in 2013, it was folded under the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the DSM-5. Today, what was once called Asperger's is often called high-functioning autism.

Differential Diagnosis

In adults, autism spectrum disorder can look a lot like other developmental or psychiatric disorders. These often need to be ruled out in a process called differential diagnosis.

Autism can be most easily mistaken for social communication disorder (SCD). People with SCD struggle with using words and language appropriately. They might use overly-formal words and tone during a casual conversation with a friend, for example.

Moreover, research has found it's not uncommon for someone to have a psychiatric disorder along with ASD. For example, a 2019 meta-analysis found that among adults with ASD:

A provider may consider various additional evaluations depending on what other disorders they suspect.


Diagnosing autism in adults can be tricky. People who weren't diagnosed as children are likely to have mild symptoms they've unknowingly learned to cover up or manage.

That said, there are plenty of traits and behaviors a person may be aware of that could be signs of autism, such as trouble navigating social interactions and extra sensitivity to smells or touch.

People who suspect they may be on the autism spectrum can screen themselves using free questionnaires found on the Internet. But to get an actual diagnosis, it's necessary to see a mental health professional.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.