Signs & Symptoms of Autism in Adults

Autism has become more frequently diagnosed in children, leaving many to wonder: "What does autism in adults look like?"

The signs of autism in adults may not be as apparent, particularly in higher-functioning adults on the spectrum.

Autistic adults may have social anxiety or prefer to be alone, may misread other people’s intentions, may not be aware of how their behavior or words affect other people, and, as a result, may unintentionally come off as brutally honest or insensitive to other people’s feelings.  In fact, adults with autism may even seem completely disinterested in other family members' lives or needs.

In severe cases, adults on the spectrum may not be able to live independently.

Symptoms of autism in adults vary from person to person, and not everyone will have all the symptoms, nor the same severity of symptoms. Men are diagnosed with autism more often than women. This may be related to women being better able to "mask" their symptoms rather than a lower frequency of occurrence. [i]

For decades, the Drake Institute has successfully treated children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other brain-based medical conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more. Our individualized treatment protocols rely on a unique combination of brain mapping and neurofeedback therapy to help patients improve brain activity for symptom reduction. These protocols help our patients improve behavioral, social, and emotional symptoms and simply have better lives.

To learn more about how we use qEEG brain map-guided neurofeedback therapy to treat children and adults on the spectrum, call the Drake Institute at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.


What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.

In 2013, autism was recategorized by the DSM-5 as a spectrum disorder that also included previously separate diagnoses of Asperger's disorder, childhood disintegration disorder, and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified).

Autism is a common childhood disorder, with around 1 in 44 children in the US having a diagnosis. However, autism can also be diagnosed in adulthood. It should be noted that the earlier the condition is identified, the better the outcome with early intervention. With proper support and treatment, adults with autism can also see improvements in their symptoms. [ii]

There’s controversy about the cause of the disorder but tends to appear in early childhood and is likely due to environmental, biological, or genetic factors.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Autism typically appears in early childhood, with symptoms appearing as early as the first two years of life. The CDC reports that a reliable diagnosis from an experienced professional can be made at 2 years old. However, patients do not always get diagnosed that early; some patients don't receive a diagnosis for their symptoms until adolescence or occasionally even in adulthood.

Developmental monitoring is the first stage of autism diagnosis. Here, parents, relatives, and childcare workers can monitor a child's development to ensure that milestones are met. Your child may also be monitored for developmental milestones during well-child visits. Further screening may be needed if a child is not meeting milestones for speech, play, social communication and interactions, and behavior.

Developmental screening is a more in-depth review of a child's development. These screenings generally occur during the 9-month, 18-month, and 30-month well-child visits. The screening includes questions for the parent or guardian about their child’s behavior, language, social interactions, and more.

If a developmental screening indicates that ASD is likely, you may be referred for an autism evaluation by an appropriate professional. This evaluation will reveal whether the criteria for an autism diagnosis are met, as well as rule out other diagnoses or disorders. The results will identify the patient’s needs and recommended interventions. [iii]

Autistic symptoms in adults aren’t as clear as in childhood, making adult diagnoses more challenging and more likely to be missed.

What Does Autism in Adults Look Like?

Though symptoms may be more easily identified during the developmental stage of young children, there are several potential traits of autism in adults. Most signs of autism in adults are more visible in social interactions. Autistic adults may experience impaired and sometimes awkward social interactions. They may also prefer to maintain a strict routine.

So, what does autism in adults look like? Below are some of the most common signs of autism in adults: [iv]

  • Not understanding other people’s feelings
  • Uncomfortable in social situations with social anxiety
  • Making friends can be very challenging and may gravitate to social isolation
  • Being brutally honest and insensitive to other people’s feelings
  • Difficulty with expressing their own feelings
  • Perceptions can be overly literal or “black and white”
  • Difficulty with transitions and changes in routine

How Does Autism Affect Adults?

Autism affects adults in various ways, especially at work and home.

For adults on the spectrum, the workplace presents unique challenges. An individual may struggle to progress in their role when social communication and eye contact are difficult. Autistic adults may come across as insensitive or cold to their coworkers due to their difficulties with reading social cues, facial expressions, and understanding other people’s feelings and intentions.  Autistic adults may misread or misinterpret other people’s intentions.  In more severe cases, autistic behaviors in adults may make it extremely difficult to hold a job.

In home life, autistic adults may have trouble with social interactions and social communication, especially understanding other people’s feelings and needs. They may be overly rigid in their routines, not liking change, and especially surprises.  They may also be viewed as eccentric, and for a lot of autistic adults, a strict schedule and routine are preferred and much more comfortable. [v]

Why Do So Many Autistic Adults Go Undiagnosed?

Autism is most often diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. However, many people with autism go undiagnosed until adulthood. This could be because these individuals are able to hide their symptoms well or because the symptoms were not severe enough in childhood to be noticed as warranting treatment. Autistic traits in adults look somewhat different than in children; if a diagnosis is missed in childhood, ASD may be even more difficult to identify in adults.

One thing that makes autism challenging to diagnose in adulthood is the co-occurrence of other conditions like ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, or bipolar disorder. The presence of these disorders may overshadow symptoms of autism, easily resulting in a missed diagnosis of autism.[vi]

How Do Autistic Men & Women Differ?

Autism is diagnosed in boys and men far more often than in girls and women. However, this is usually due to autism looking slightly different in women.

For instance, women with autism often learn to hide or "mask" their symptoms to fit in better with peers. Women also tend to cope better in social situations than their male counterparts. Some symptoms, like repetitive behaviors, aren't as common in women as in men so a diagnosis may be missed.

It can be more difficult to identify autism in women than in men. Again, it’s important to monitor developmental milestones for every child, as the earlier the diagnosis is made with subsequent clinical intervention, the better the outcome. [vii]

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism

The Drake Institute uses specialized, advanced technologies including QEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to help reduce the presence and severity of symptoms related to autism, ADHD, stress disorders, insomnia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other medical conditions.

The Drake Institute uses the following technologies to help patients with brain-based disorders.

Brain Mapping

Brain mapping is one of the first steps in creating our individualized treatment plans. In this stage, 19 sensors are placed in targeted locations on the patient’s scalp. These locations correlate with different areas of the brain responsible for focus, executive functioning, memory, language, social processing, emotional regulation, and more.

The sensors measure brain activity, and the results are used to identify any areas or brain networks that are dysregulated linked to symptoms. Our Medical Director compares the findings on the QEEG to what is happening with the patient so that he can develop an effective and individualized treatment protocol for each patient.


After brain mapping has concluded with our Medical Director developing individualized protocols, neurofeedback training is used to help patients reduce the symptoms of autism.

This treatment protocol improves brain dysregulation by guiding brain activity toward more functional patterns.

In some patients, biomedical abnormalities may need to be treated to maximize improvement from neurofeedback therapy.


In some cases, we may also use neurostimulation guided by QEEG brain map findings to gently guide the brain into a more optimal functioning pattern. We’ve found that some patients benefit even more from neurofeedback if we also use neurostimulation. Neurostimulation is particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

For over forty years, Drake has helped thousands of patients with various disorders such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, panic disorder, depression, insomnia, migraine headaches, and hypertension achieve an improved quality of life by reducing their symptoms. To learn more about how we use neurofeedback therapy and brain mapping to help reduce symptoms, call us at 1-800-700-4233 or fill out the free consultation form to get started.










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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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