There can be barriers to getting tested for autism as an adult. But there are many valid options for testing and support.

If you’re autistic, you might find that getting screened for autism can be a challenging task. While self-diagnosis is valid, you might want to confirm your self-diagnosis with a mental health professional.

There are many ways to get screened for autism if you’re an adult, though there can be some roadblocks. Learning about the ways autism testing is conducted can help you figure out the best testing option for you.

Assessment options for autistic adults is a growing area of research. One 2023 article on current perspectives in autism screening identified that there’s a need for autism screenings and assessments to be:

  • more person-centered
  • more respectful
  • more neurodiversity affirming
  • more accessible

These are all barriers that autistic adults might face when obtaining a diagnosis or screening. Self-assessment, online screeners, and professional evaluations and testing can all provide you with more information about autism. Each option has benefits and drawbacks.

Self-assessment and diagnosis

Due to barriers to receiving a formal autism diagnosis, 2023 research suggests that more adults are self-identifying as autistic. Self-identification as autistic is fine for personal use but might not qualify as valid for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations or certain therapies.

The authors also indicate in their review that many autistic people express fears they would not be taken seriously by healthcare professionals when seeking an autism diagnosis. They also fear having difficulty verbalizing concerns about autism to healthcare professionals.

Despite barriers, some people choose to seek a formal diagnosis of autism.

Online screeners and assessments

Formal diagnosis of autism can only be done by a mental health professional. Many autistic adults may be curious and complete online screeners that help with self-diagnosis or that can help lead them to seek a formal diagnosis.

Some standard online screeners for autism include:

  • The Autism Quotient (AQ)
  • The Ritvo Autism Asperger’s Diagnostic Scale (RAADS)
  • Camouflaging Autistic Traits Questionnaire (CAT-Q)
  • Adult Repetitive Behaviors Questionnaire Two (RBQ-2)

These should not be substituted for formal diagnosis but can help provide you with insight into the potential indicators of autism.

Professional evaluations and testing

There are various assessment measures used in adult professional evaluations. These assessments are usually conducted by a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

There aren’t any specific medical tests that diagnose autism. However, mental health clinicians often use assessment tools like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2), module 4.

According to 2017 research, the ADOS-2, module 4, is considered the gold standard for the diagnosis of autism in adults.

When you go to a professional for an autism assessment, the clinician will ask about your history, consider observational data, and use screening measures to assess for autism.

About 2% of adults in the United States are autistic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are various signs of autism in adults. These signs are often characterized into two main categories:

  • restricted and repetitive interests or behavior patterns
  • challenges in social communication and interactions

According to 2023 research, each of these categories has additional criteria.

Difficulties with communication and social interaction

Autistic adults may notice signs such as:

  • trouble being aware of what’s appropriate for social interactions in different contexts
  • challenges mutually sharing interests with others
  • difficulty establishing and maintaining peer relationships
  • inappropriate reactions to both verbal and non-verbal communication from others
  • trouble sustaining, initiating, or comprehending verbal communication in social situations
  • challenges with verbal communication and speech
  • eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions may be difficult or inappropriate
  • it may be difficult to recognize non-verbal cues from others
  • it may be challenging to understand and convey sympathy
  • it’s hard to understand, imagine, and respond to others’ feelings or emotional states

Restricted and repetitive interests or behaviors

The authors suggest that autistic adults may notice the following:

  • troubles with new experiences or unexpected events
  • following routines strictly and having difficulty with flexibility
  • excessive rule-following
  • ritualized behavior patterns, such as putting objects in a particular order
  • preoccupation with objects, special interests, or specific stimuli
  • repetitive motor movements
  • hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli
  • troubles with personal, social, familial, or professional aspects of life

While the above can indicate autism in adults, it’s essential to know that some people can camouflage or mask characteristics to fit in and get through certain parts of life.

While masking may work short-term, in the long-term, it can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and other mental health concerns.

If you’re an autistic adult, you may need to seek outside help depending on your level of support needs. There are various support options available.

If you’re seeking therapeutic support, some common options for therapy include:

A 2023 study found that CBT-based interventions helped improve social functioning. The social skills gained from CBT interventions may include:

  • learning and improving social skills
  • increased empathy
  • improvement in social responses and interactions
  • reduced social anxiety
  • reduced feelings of loneliness

In addition to therapeutic support options, some other support options include:

  • sensory integration therapy
  • vocational rehabilitation
  • support groups
  • medications for co-occurring mental health conditions

If you’re autistic and want more information for support resources, consider the following organizations:

Autistic adults have a few different options for getting an autism diagnosis. Self-diagnosis is valid; online screening and assessment tools can provide more information and help you understand the signs of autism.

If you want a formal diagnosis of autism, a mental health professional can provide a screening.

While there are some barriers to receiving a formal diagnosis, it’s possible to do so. Understanding more about autism and what you’re experiencing can help you find the best support for your needs.