No accurate count of the number of adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the United States currently exists. But government statistics indicate that about 3.5 million children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. An estimated 75% of these children have Autism, one of these disorders. This, along with the fact that ASD is considered a life-long condition, leads to the assumption that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects close to 2.6 million adults in the U.S.
Of course, it is not possible to determine how many of these adults know of their condition. Some were diagnosed in childhood while others have never been diagnosed. For those who never have been, would a diagnosis in adulthood provide any advantage?
The Benefits of an Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
Here are reasons why it could make sense to find out if you have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):
- Knowing you have ASD can help you develop the strategies you need to be more successful in life. If making more friends, interacting productively at work, socializing more effectively, dating, or improving your marriage pose challenges to you, realizing what you are dealing with can provide the means of overcoming these difficulties. Solutions to problems become easier when you know what you’re facing.
- Similarly, a diagnosis allows you to learn to live more adaptively with sensory challenges, such as the feel of certain fabrics, particular sound frequencies, the taste of certain foods, or the difficulty of making eye contact. Knowing why you have sensitivities can give you the means of coping with them.
- An accurate diagnosis will tell you not only if you have adult ASD but also whether you have associated problems such as depression, bipolar disorder, or Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). With this information you are in a position to address all of your social, psychological and emotional problems.
- A definitive diagnosis is a way to help others in your life understand why you are the way you are. Knowing whether you have ASD, and similar conditions gives them the means to respond to you differently and more in line with the actual challenges you have.
- With a conclusive diagnosis you have easier access to useful resources. There are communities of people who understand who you are and how you think and with whom you can share your experiences. In some instances, an adult ASD diagnosis provides you with entry to organizations and programs specifically designed to provide assistance and support to adults. (See my blog on resources for adults with ASD.)
Disadvantages of an Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
Together with advantages, seeking a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have drawbacks:
- Even in today’s day and age of greater acceptance, ASD has a certain stigma attached to it. People have all kinds of ideas about what it means to live with ASD and many of those are negative. You raise the possibility of encountering those biases and prejudices by disclosing an ASD diagnosis. Similarly, you risk encountering your own internal stigma and how that can influence your self-esteem. Discussing this with friends, family members and/or a professional, and especially other adults with ASD, before you seek a diagnosis is a helpful preventative step to take.
- Surprisingly, employment discrimination frequently occurs, even though is legally prohibited, and this is true of adults with ASD as it is with other conditions. Consider whether you want to risk on-the-job difficulties should a diagnosis be divulged to your employer.
- The possibility of an incorrect diagnosis is real. Few professionals specialize in diagnosing ASD in children and fewer still know about ASD in adults. Given how similar it is to other conditions, ASD is often misdiagnosed, even more often when a professional is relatively inexperienced with ASD. Sadly, a real risk of seeking a diagnosis is that you may hear you have ASD when, in fact, you don’t.
- Finally, one drawback to investing in the time and expense of an assessment for ASD is that the resulting diagnosis only tells you what you knew all along. For whatever reasons, you may have a pretty good sense that you have ASD. Ask yourself whether confirming what you already know is worth the cost. If it is, great. If you have doubts, think more carefully about the advantages of learning something about yourself you were pretty sure you knew all along.