Treatment of Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder

Therapeutic Options for High-Functioning Adults

Autism spectrum disorder is sometimes only diagnosed later in life when symptoms start to interfere with daily activities. Symptoms may include difficulty with social communication, some level of sensitivity to sensory input, and a need for sameness, repetition, and order. Some adults with milder forms of autism are also likely to be focused a specific area of interest and have a hard time engaging with others outside of that interest.

If you're an adult with those symptoms, you may already have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Or, like many people, you may be wondering whether you should consider seeking a diagnosis. If you're on the fence, or not sure whether treatment is likely to be helpful now that you're an adult, it's important to know what's available and what isn't.

High Functioning Autism

If you're an adult with mild symptoms of autism, you may already have figured out how to navigate the adult world with your challenges. You may have found a romantic partner, a great job, and a terrific living situation. If that's your reality, do you really need any kind of treatment?

The simple answer is no.

Autism is not a disease, and it is not degenerative. So there is neither a physical need nor ethical obligation to do anything about it. It is only when the symptoms are affecting your quality of life that treatment may be a reasonable option.

Goals of Treatment

Treatments for autism spectrum disorder are really only useful if they can improve your ability to navigate your world successfully. They may reduce your anxiety, improve your functional skills, and help manage your emotions appropriately. Seeking treatment may also introduce you to a world of professionals and support groups who better understand the challenges of living with autism.

An informed treatment program is not meant to "cure" your autism; there is nothing to cure. Rather, it is meant to provide you with a framework to better understand your difficulties and strengths.

It is only by placing your autism in context—namely, in relation to all of the different conditions that make up your quality of life—that positive changes can be identified and made. This includes leisure interests, social activities, health, employment, and family.

In addition to working on personal goals, treatment may often involve addressing family issues. This includes repairing rifts in which family members are no longer talking, oftentimes because of their lack of understanding about the nature and dynamics of autism. In some cases, family relations can strengthen if members work together to better understand and live with autism, not as a disease but a condition.

Forms of Treatment

Children with any level of autism usually receive a set of treatments in school. Oftentimes, they'll receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy along with some type of social skills training and behavior support.

If they over- or under-react to sensory input, their parents might also sign them up for sensory integration therapy. As they get older, they might get involved with social skills groups and cognitive therapy.

While some of these therapies are appropriate for adults, treatment really depends upon the individual's response to the autism diagnosis. To this end, responses can run the gamut from joy to anger and everything in between.

For adults wanting to pursue therapy, a treatment plan may involve one or several the same modalities used in children. Medication may also be considered, if appropriate.

Services and Support

Once an adult has a bona fide autism spectrum diagnosis, there are a number of resources available to them. They can ask their diagnostician to write a report that clearly outlines diagnostic issues, IQ, and adaptive behaviors.

With a written diagnosis from your doctor, adults with autism can often qualify for state and federal services, including health insurance assistance, vocational training, job placement, and, in some cases, even housing.

In tandem with professional help, many adults with autism benefit from "do it yourself" therapy. Adults with high-functioning autism have access to books, support groups, conferences and other resources that provide insight, ideas, and information on all aspects of life with autism spectrum.

The Global and Regional Partnership for Asperger Syndrome (GRASP) offers a whole page of links to sites and resources to support adults with AS seeking ideas, insights, and next steps.

Finding a Job If You Have Autism
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Article Sources
  • Gaus, Valerie. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult asperger syndrome. Psych Central. Web. 2017.
  • Roy, M., Dillo, W., Emrich, H. M., & Ohlmeier, M. D. Asperger’s Syndrome in adulthood. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, 2009. 106(5), 59–64. http://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2009.0059