Autism self-diagnosis is becoming more common, thanks to the increased availability of medical, scientific information about autism online and in major publications.
Many personal stories of autism self-diagnosis in adulthood are flooding social media. A wide range of biographies about persons with autism has now been written, and pages on government and health websites are meant to help people understand symptoms.
Adults on the autism spectrum who did not obtain a proper diagnosis as children may struggle to comprehend why they are unable to interact or socialize in the same manner that others do. When they come across a list of symptoms or a personal history of autism, things may make more sense. This can lead to self-diagnosis, either using an online quiz or another list of symptoms.
Self-diagnosis is ultimately ineffective since it prevents a person from seeking professional care. Therefore, only a medical practitioner can provide an official diagnosis of autism.
Problems with autism diagnoses
Autism is a developmental disorder. Since the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), autism has been clinically referred to as autism spectrum disorder This name highlights the range in type and severity of behavioral symptoms.
It can be difficult to get this right because autism is diagnosed based on behaviors rather than genetic or physiological symptoms. In addition, the clinical definition of autism has been adjusted in recent decades as medical research improves understanding of the disorder. As a result, more people are getting appropriate diagnoses, even if they were misdiagnosed as children or never diagnosed.
In the United States, an estimated 2.2 percent of adults, or 5.4 million people, are on the autistic spectrum. People on the autism spectrum are typically diagnosed as children as early as age two.
Many adults with milder symptoms of autism may have gone undiagnosed. However, they may have acquired coping techniques to deal with communication and social relationships over time. As a result, they may not receive a diagnosis until they are adults. Often, their diagnosis comes from a personal exploration of symptoms.
Self-diagnosis should lead to a professional diagnosis.
There is a wide range of information about autism and other mental, behavioral, and developmental conditions. Personal stories about diagnosis and treatment, interactive questionnaires on websites to review symptoms, and even medical research on autism in children and adults are easily accessible in minutes.
After reading personal accounts about it, many people relate to the hardships that lead up to an autism diagnosis in adulthood. Some may have a child in their family diagnosed with autism, and they are aware of their symptoms. Other people may read a book or a medical magazine and recognize themselves in the information.
All of these are examples of self-diagnosis. While you cannot diagnose yourself with autism, this work can help you get started on the road to a formal diagnosis. In addition, it is helpful for adults struggling in life to assess what they think is wrong and identify underlying issues.
However, self-diagnosis should not end there. Without talking to a doctor, you may not get the help you need to treat autism symptoms, even if they are mild.
Autism self-diagnosis might lead to inaccurate conclusions.
Self-diagnosis of diseases such as autism can lead to various issues. When diagnosing or referring for a diagnosis, clinicians have particular medical expertise that influences their decision-making process. On the other hand, ordinary people cannot rule out other diseases’ symptoms.
You can’t see yourself objectively. No one can. A doctor can ask you specific questions to understand how your experiences fit into a diagnostic framework. This outside perspective is critical to accurate diagnoses.
You cannot seek medical treatment without an official diagnosis, even if you self-diagnose accurately. Therapy can help you a lot, but you won’t have access to insurance coverage for that care without a medical diagnosis.
Symptoms similar to autism may appear in adulthood, signs of other problems requiring different therapy or medical intervention. People with autism struggle with communication, socialization, cognition, and even mobility throughout their lives.
Some people may have emotional dysregulation problems. These problems can cause symptoms to develop that resemble autism, and people can misdiagnose themselves as a result. Symptoms of emotional imbalance include:
- Feeling “off” or isolated without knowing why.
- Feeling very anxious, moody, or lazy.
- Having memory problems, digestive problems, and muscle pain.
- Emotional imbalances can lead to more serious mental or behavioral problems, such as:
- Persistent depression.
- Social anxiety.
- Panic attacks.
- Anhedonia, also described as the inability to experience a pleasure.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or its tendencies.
Many of these symptoms, including mimic autism, can be alleviated by working with a therapist to address the emotional imbalance. Furthermore, when you discuss your symptoms with a doctor or therapist, they may be able to tell you if you have another underlying disease. Rather than trying to self-treat a sickness you think you have, a correct diagnosis can help you seek the best available treatment for the condition you have.
After you’ve self-diagnosed autism, get medical advice.
In most cases, autism diagnostic tools focus on children’s symptoms and parents’ reports. There are several questionnaires for diagnosing autism in adults, but there are no surveys or questions for adults instead of children.
Suppose you suspect you have undiagnosed autism as an adult. Your doctor or therapist may then inquire about your childhood experiences, symptoms you recall and describe, and how you currently perceive the world. Observe and report any patterns or issues with scheduling, expectations, or your personal life. Inform your doctor if you tend to take phrases literally. All of these signs may indicate that you are on the autism spectrum.
To answer these questions thoroughly, you can start with an online quiz, read a list of symptoms, or talk to people with autism about their experiences. Often, this information can shed light on the symptoms you’re struggling with and give you a basic understanding before you talk to a professional.
Many persons suffering from mental, behavioral, and even developmental illnesses like autism can benefit from self-assessment and self-referral. You can seek assistance once you better understand your symptoms in a different context.
If you have one or more of the above below listed mental “problems,” you should look into getting an autism diagnosis, either online or by visiting a doctor. These are the problems:
- Often doubting yourself and trying to cope.
- Struggling to feel like you belong.
- Having difficulty understanding yourself, especially in a larger social context.
- Question your need for a formal diagnosis.
- Regularly feel “different” or isolated in groups.
Getting treatment may be more effective than Autism self-assessment or self-referral.
Adults must seek help from a doctor or counselor on their own. Autism specialists typically work with youngsters, examining their behavior and talking with their parents about developmental issues. But, unfortunately, there is little standardization to help adults get an autism diagnosis so far.
More autism information can help more adults recognize that they may have the condition. Some people may accurately diagnose themselves before consulting a doctor, but the medical community does not recognize self-diagnosis.
Work with your doctor or therapist to receive an official diagnosis once you’ve been self-diagnosed. The expert can recommend you to a specialist, e.g., a psychiatrist or neurologist, to assist you with the diagnosis.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is the most effective evidence-based treatment for people with autism, including adults. This treatment method employs objective measures of your symptoms and progress so that you and your therapist can work together to address your issues. In addition, for adults newly diagnosed with autism, ABA therapy can help them overcome the stress associated with a lifelong set of issues related to a missed diagnosis.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.