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Over the past few decades, society has become far more aware and accepting of autism. Clinicians now often identify autism in childhood, but those who came of age before this shift may have been overlooked. Research suggests autism is equally prevalent in previous generations but less diagnosed. Therefore, many people today experience a diagnosis later in life.

That experience can elicit a range of responses, and it can be transformational for those who have always felt different but never had a framework with which to understand their identity. With that understanding, though, can come questions of disclosure, services, academics, and employment.

How do I get tested for autism as an adult?

Adults should seek an evaluation from a trained mental health professional. For many reasons, it’s difficult for adults to be diagnosed with autism. Diagnosis, treatment, and expertise currently center around children, so adults may want to look for a pediatrician or child psychiatrist who specializes in autism. If that clinician doesn’t feel comfortable providing an evaluation, they may have a referral for someone who works with adults. Adults may also consider seeking recommendations from a local support group or advocacy organization.

Some adults who suspect they have autism may decide that they don’t ultimately need a diagnosis, because they function well in work and in life. But for those who struggle professionally, socially, or romantically, a diagnosis can provide a valuable foundation from which to understand those challenges and find support.

I was just diagnosed with autism. What do I do?

Allow yourself time to process this change. A late diagnosis of autism can change your self-concept—often for the better—but recognize that it may take time to fully understand or embrace.

Your next steps may be to learn more about autism, read about other people’s experiences, or seek out adults with autism for community. If your diagnosis was prompted by difficulties at school or work, you should explore what accommodations are available to help you function more effectively.

What is it like to be diagnosed with autism in adulthood?

People can have a variety of reactions to an autism diagnosis in adulthood. Some feel relief that there is a reason for the ways they think and behave. Some feel scared, as they fully acknowledge the condition and what it might mean for the future. Some feel shame, perhaps due to negative or misinformed portrayals of autism. Some feel regret for not seeking support sooner, and others feel acceptance toward the diagnosis and the differences that make them unique.

For many adults, an autism diagnosis can be life-changing. It provides a framework with which to understand themselves, it releases harmful core beliefs they held, and it allows them to embrace their authentic autistic selves. As two women with autism describe, the experience was like “finally solving a lifelong riddle.”

Should I camouflage my autism in social settings?

Research has shown that authenticity is an integral part of mental health and well-being. Yet many people with autism are taught, or teach themselves, to modify their behavior to conform to social norms and expectations.

Identifying and unraveling deeply ingrained habits is difficult—it requires courage and assertiveness. But doing so—and perhaps finding a supportive neurodiverse community—can eliminate shame and stress and help to cultivate dignity, connection, and self-acceptance.

What are housing options for autistic adults?

People with autism live independently, with family members, in autistic communities, or group homes. Housing options depend heavily on the severity of the person’s condition.

There is debate as to who should determine where an autistic person lives—the individual, a guardian, or the government. Autistic advocates often believe that the individual should have the right to choose and be given all possible tools to communicate their preferences. Parents of people with severe autism may contend that their child doesn’t have the capacity for complex thought or decision making and that the parent must work to find the best housing arrangement.

How should people with autism pick a college?

People with autism have different educational paths. Some may not feel ready to move away to college at 18. A good solution, in that case, is to attend community college while living at home. Community colleges also tend to be practical and job-oriented, which people with autism may appreciate. The most important part of the decision is embarking on an academic path that they are confident they can complete.

Which schools have neurodiversity programs?

Landmark College in Putney Vermont is exclusively for neurodivergent students, those with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. Other universities, including William & Mary and Drexel University, have also begun to establish neurodiversity programs.

In choosing a college, people with autism may want to consider what is most important to them. That might be attending a top-tier engineering program, for example, or being surrounded by other neurodivergent students.

How can professors support students with autism?

Professors can support students on the spectrum by developing a relationship with the student and learning about his or her interests. Teachers can ask the student how to make the classroom experience more accessible and enjoyable. They can learn the student’s strengths rather than only focusing on their deficits. It can also be valuable to provide options for class projects, so that students can choose to work independently if they’re uncomfortable in group settings.

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