13 September 2022

Autism is a lifelong condition that begins in childhood. However, many people don't get a formal diagnosis until later in life.

If you think you might have autism, you can speak with your GP or therapist about getting an assessment for autism.

Learning more about autism and ways to cope can be beneficial, and for some people a diagnosis brings a sense of relief.

In this guide, we talk about how to know if you have autism, the common signs and where to get support.

What is autism?

Autism is a condition that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with others and their environment. It's a lifelong condition that starts in childhood.

Autism is also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It's called a spectrum disorder because people living with ASD experience a wide range of symptoms, characteristics, challenges and needs.

For some people, autism can have a large impact on day-to-day life, such as difficulty making friends, holding down a job or coping with unexpected challenges.

Everyone's experience with autism is different. That means people with autism sometimes go undiagnosed or are misdiagnosed with another health condition.

How to know if you have autism

Understanding the signs and symptoms of autism is a good place to start. To receive an autism diagnosis, you will need to speak with a qualified health professional.

They will get to know your situation and experiences, and also rule out any other health conditions that you might be living with.

Common signs of autism include:

  • Trouble knowing what others are feeling or thinking.
  • Finding it hard to understand social cues and facial expressions, which can lead to miscommunications or confusion.
  • Finding it hard to make friends or develop deep friendships.
  • Taking things literally which can lead to communication issues

Autism signs and symptoms

People living with autism have a wide range of experiences and symptoms. To be diagnosed with autism, you don't necessarily have to show all the signs and symptoms listed below.

Social interaction:

  • Trouble understanding what others are thinking or feeling.
  • Finding it hard to read body language such as facial expressions or gestures.
  • Feeling anxious about social situations.
  • Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own.
  • Not understanding unwritten social rules. For example, talking over other people.
  • Issues with personal space. For example, standing too close to people or not liking it when others get too close to you.

Communication:

  • Coming across as blunt or rude to others without realising it.
  • Finding it hard to join in a conversation. You may find it easier to 'talk at' someone rather than engage in a two way conversation.
  • Trouble expressing how you feel.
  • Avoiding eye contact.
  • Taking things literally. You might find it hard to understand sarcasm or statements like 'break a leg'.

Behaviours:

  • Talking with a flat, monotone voice which might not really communicate what you're feeling.
  • Having a routine in your life, and feeling anxious if the routine is disrupted.
  • Making noises when you're expected to be quiet.
  • Doing repetitive behaviours or routines, such as hand flapping or pacing.

Other characteristics:

  • Finding it difficult to cope with sudden, unexpected changes. For example, feeling upset if objects are moved from their specific place.
  • Having a good memory and recall.
  • Being very interested in certain topics.
  • Finding it hard to regulate emotions.
  • Being over sensitive or under sensitive to sensory stimulation. For example, finding lots of light and noise overwhelming, or not being affected at all.

Other conditions

Symptoms of autism are often misdiagnosed as:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Mood disorders

When to see your doctor

If you think you might be living with autism and are finding it hard to cope, it's important to seek help. Having the right supports in place can help you feel more confident and overcome challenges you might be facing.

You may choose to get an autism assessment if:

  • You experience many of the common signs of autism.
  • You were diagnosed with another health condition such as ADHD or OCD, but suspect that you have autism.
  • A family member was recently diagnosed with autism and you experience some of the symptoms yourself.
  • You experience some of the autism signs and they are impacting your relationships, home or work life.

How is autism diagnosed?

Autism is diagnosed by a specialist psychologist or psychiatrist. During the assessment, they will ask you questions about your symptoms and how they impact your life.

They may also ask questions about your childhood and may even speak with your parents or older family members to get a better picture.

To get an autism assessment, you can:

  • Talk to your GP. They may refer you for an assessment.
  • Talk to a psychologist or psychiatrist with experience diagnosing autism.
  • Speak to an autism association in your area for information about assessments.

Do I need a formal diagnosis?

Seeking an autism diagnosis is a personal choice. Some people find they already have the support and coping strategies in place without a formal diagnosis.

Others find that a formal diagnosis helps them understand themselves better, and allows them to get the right support. You might find that a diagnosis helps you use your strengths and develop tools to help you cope with areas that you find challenging.

Where to get support for autism spectrum disorder

You can get support through:

  • Your GP or family doctor
  • A psychologist, psychiatrist or other mental health professional
  • Autism associations in your area
  • Support groups
  • Social workers
  • Autism employment support

Autism employment services

APM is an employment services provider, offering support to people living with autism spectrum disorder. We can help you find work, access workplace accommodations and overcome challenges you might be facing at work. Find out more about our Disability Employment Services and employment programs for school leavers.

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For media enquiries, please contact

adrian.bradley@apm.net.au

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