Autistic Behaviors In Adults

Explore autistic behaviors in adults: understand challenges, co-occurring disorders, and effective treatments.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
July 11, 2024
Published On
July 11, 2024

Understanding Autism Behaviors

Autism is a complex developmental disorder with a wide range of symptoms and behaviors. Understanding these behaviors can provide insights into the experiences of individuals with autism, helping to promote empathy and support.

Facial Characteristics in Autism

One of the physical characteristics often associated with autism is distinct facial features. According tUnderstanding Autism Behaviors

Autism is a complex developmental disorder with a wide range of symptoms and behaviors. Understanding these behaviors can provide insights into the experiences of individuals with autism, helping to promote empathy and support.

Facial Characteristics in Autism

One of the physical characteristics often associated with autism is distinct facial features. According to CBS News, children with autism may have an unusually broad upper face, wide-set eyes, a shorter middle region of the face, and a broader or wider mouth and philtrum (the groove below the nose, above the top lip). While these characteristics can provide clues to a diagnosis, it is important to remember that not all individuals with autism will have these features, and presence of these features alone does not confirm a diagnosis.

Behavioral Traits in High-Functioning Autism

When looking at autistic behaviors in adults, it's essential to consider the wide range of behaviors that may be exhibited. Autistic behaviors can often differ significantly from neurotypical behaviors, making them distinguishable. For instance, avoiding eye contact in autistic individuals can be a way to decrease unpleasant sensations caused by overactivation in a specific brain area, according to Verywell Health.

Additionally, people with autism may be more delayed in developing what is known as Theory of Mind, or may not develop it at all. This can lead to behaviors such as not knowing what behaviors are 'expected' in social situations or not understanding that another person's perception may be different from theirs, as discussed by The Spectrum.

Behavioral TraitsDescriptionSensory SensitivitiesIndividuals with autism may be hypersensitive (over-sensitive) or hyposensitive (under-sensitive) to sensory input, affecting various senses, including touch, taste, sound, smell, or sight. This can significantly impact daily life activities and interactions [1].Social Skills DeficitsDeficits in social skills are common in individuals with autism, impacting their ability to form and maintain relationships, understand nonverbal cues, and engage in back-and-forth interactions in daily life. Difficulties in joint attention, emotional regulation, and relationship-building can make social interactions challenging for individuals with autism [1].

Understanding these behaviors and characteristics is crucial in fostering a supportive and understanding environment for individuals with autism.

Challenges Faced by Adults with Autism

Understanding the challenges faced by adults with autism is crucial to provide them with the appropriate support and interventions. This section will discuss some of the key difficulties, including sensory overload, emotional intensity, social communication difficulties, and tendencies towards perfectionism and routines.

Sensory Overload and Emotional Intensity

Adults with high-functioning autism can often be easily overloaded by sensory input, making certain environments and situations particularly challenging. They may also experience emotions more intensely than others, which can complicate emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships. Difficulties with transitions and a tendency towards lateness can also be indicators of autistic behaviors in adults, as they may prefer observing and listening over interacting and speaking in busy environments.

Social Communication Difficulties

Communication can pose significant challenges for adults with autism. They may find it difficult to understand jokes and sarcasm, and maintaining eye contact can cause them discomfort. Tracking multiple conversations at once can also be challenging, meaning they might struggle in group environments. These social communication difficulties can contribute to anxiety in social settings and a preference for solitude.

Perfectionism and Routines

Many adults with high-functioning autism exhibit perfectionism in certain areas of their life. This can coincide with a preference for working at home or away from others to minimize interruptions and distractions. They may also adhere to strict routines and find decision-making stressful, leading to avoidance of situations that require flexibility. At times, their intense focus on self and personal interests may be perceived by others as selfishness. However, it's important to understand this as a facet of their autism, not a character flaw.

Navigating the world with autism can present unique obstacles. Recognizing these challenges is the first step towards understanding and accommodating adults with autism better. The following sections will delve into co-occurring disorders often found in individuals with autism, as well as strategies for managing behaviors and interventions that can offer support.

Co-occurring Disorders in Autism

Individuals with high-functioning autism, including both children and adults, often grapple with common co-occurring disorders. These may include anxiety disorders, depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder. These disorders can significantly impact the individual's daily life beyond the core autistic behaviors in adults [2].

Anxiety, Depression, and OCD

Anxiety disorders are a significant problem for 40% to 80% of the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) population. This high prevalence is associated with challenging behaviors such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, and tantrumming in individuals with autism.

In addition to anxiety, depression is a common co-occurring disorder in adults with autism. The difficulties faced with social communication, understanding emotions, and the distress from sensory overload can contribute to feelings of depression. These mood disorders can exacerbate autistic behaviors and create additional challenges for individuals with ASD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), characterized by repetitive and unwanted thoughts and actions, is another common co-occurring disorder in ASD. The repetitive behaviors and restricted interests inherent in autism can overlap with the symptoms of OCD, making it more challenging to distinguish and appropriately address.

ADHD and Bipolar Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common co-occurring disorder in individuals with autism. ADHD is characterized by difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. These symptoms can exacerbate the social communication issues and repetitive behaviors that are part of ASD, adding complexity to the individual's condition.

Bipolar disorder, characterized by alternating periods of depression and high-energy mania, is another disorder that can co-occur with autism. Bipolar disorder can add significant emotional instability to the challenges already faced by individuals with autism.

The co-existence of these disorders with autism can compound the behavioral challenges faced by adults with ASD. Understanding these co-occurring disorders is crucial for providing effective support and interventions tailored to the unique needs of each individual with autism.

Read: Group Homes for Adults with Autism: The Ultimate Guide

Addressing Autism Behaviors

When it comes to addressing autistic behaviors in adults, there are several strategies and interventions that can be employed to improve quality of life and manage challenging behaviors. These approaches range from direct instruction and environmental changes to more formal behavioral interventions.

Strategies for Managing Behaviors

One approach to managing autistic behaviors involves direct instruction, remediation of challenges, selection of appropriate settings, developing resilience, or modifying the situation entirely, depending on the importance of the situation and the individual's abilities and challenges.

Another effective strategy involves the use of Positive Behavior Support (PBS). This approach aims to enhance a person's quality of life and reduce behaviors of concern by focusing on teaching new skills and making changes in the individual's environment. PBS relies on person-centered strategies that respect an individual's rights, dignity, and overall well-being.

Interventions and Support Programs

When it comes to formal interventions, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a commonly used technique. This method involves identifying a behavior or skill, setting a goal towards it, and teaching it in a structured way. ABA can target specific behaviors, skills, or broader areas of self-development.

Cognitive Behavioral Intervention (CBI) is another approach often used to manage challenging behaviors. This method is based on modifying or improving behavior through cognitive processes. CBI involves teaching individuals to recognize escalating negative thoughts and providing strategies to change thinking and behavior. This approach is often used for individuals displaying problematic behaviors like anger or anxiety [5].

While these methods can be effective, it's important to note that more research is needed to understand and address challenging behaviors in adults with ASD. Much of the current research focuses on child samples, highlighting the need for further research and tailored interventions for adults [6]. By expanding our understanding and implementation of these strategies and interventions, we can better support adults with ASD in managing their behaviors and improving their quality of life.

Dealing with Challenging Behaviors

Managing autistic behaviors in adults can present significant challenges, both for the individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and for their families, teachers, and caregivers. These behaviors, while often perplexing to those around them, are frequently the individual's response to finding the world at large challenging. This section will cover some of the common challenging behaviors associated with ASD, specifically addressing aggression and self-injury, as well as social and communication issues.

Aggression and Self-Injury

Aggression and self-injury are behaviors of concern that can become a barrier to individuals with ASD participating in and contributing to their community. These behaviors can undermine their rights, dignity, and quality of life, and pose a risk to their health and safety.

Aggressive behavior in adults with ASD can be a response to feeling overwhelmed. This can be due to sensory overload, difficulty processing social situations, or frustration stemming from communication difficulties. Self-injury, on the other hand, can serve a variety of functions, including self-soothing, communicating distress, or reducing sensory overload.

To manage these behaviors, a variety of interventions can be used. Positive Behavior Support (PBS) aims to improve a person's quality of life and reduce behaviors of concern by focusing on teaching new skills and making changes in the individual's environment [5].

Social and Communication Issues

Social and communication difficulties are core issues that impact individuals with ASD. These challenges can lead to significant frustration, confusion, and anxiety, which in turn can exacerbate other challenging behaviors, such as aggression or self-injury.

Social difficulties can include problems with understanding social cues, misinterpreting others' intentions, or struggling with maintaining appropriate social boundaries. Communication difficulties can encompass a wide range of issues, from verbal communication problems (such as echolalia or scripting) to nonverbal communication challenges (like difficulty with eye contact or body language).

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a range of techniques used in behavioral interventions that can be particularly effective at addressing social and communication issues. ABA involves identifying a behavior or skill, setting a goal towards it, and teaching it in a highly structured way [5].

In dealing with these challenging behaviors, it's crucial to remember that each individual with ASD is unique. Strategies and interventions should be personalized to meet their specific needs and strengths, fostering a better understanding and management of autistic behaviors in adults.

Treatment Approaches for Adults with ASD

Managing autistic behaviors in adults requires a multi-faceted approach, often involving a combination of behavioral interventions and pharmacotherapy.

Behavioral Interventions: ABA

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a key strategy used in behavioral interventions for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ABA involves identifying a behavior or skill, setting a goal towards it, and teaching it in a highly structured way. It can target specific behaviors, skills, or broader areas of self-development. This method is particularly effective in reducing challenging behaviors with clear environmental antecedents.

ABA-based interventions require consistent implementation and ongoing monitoring to assess their effectiveness. They can be adapted and modified as necessary to ensure that they are meeting the unique needs of the individual.

Pharmacotherapy and Medication Guidelines

In some cases, particularly when environmental factors cannot be identified or when behaviors are severe, pharmacological treatments may be necessary in combination with behavioral interventions. According to PubMed, the common pharmacological treatments for challenging behaviors associated with ASD in adults include newer antipsychotics like risperidone and aripiprazole.

However, it's crucial to note that risperidone and aripiprazole, the only medications approved by the US FDA for the treatment of behaviors associated with ASD, are specifically indicated for use in children and not adults. Furthermore, while these medications can be effective, they also carry potential side effects.

Given these considerations, the use of pharmacotherapy should be carefully monitored, and it should be complemented with behavioral interventions whenever possible. The recommendations for treating challenging behaviors in adults with ASD include functional assessment, careful monitoring of medication side effects, and a focus on behavioral methods.

It's essential for individuals with ASD, their caregivers, and their healthcare providers to work together to develop and implement a comprehensive treatment plan. This plan should be tailored to the individual's needs and circumstances, and it should be reviewed and adjusted regularly to ensure its effectiveness.

By combining behavioral interventions with cautious use of pharmacotherapy, it's possible to manage and mitigate challenging autistic behaviors in adults, enhancing their quality of life and enabling them to reach their full potential.