Early diagnosis followed by tailored support can make life much richer and less challenging for a person with autism. A formal diagnosis is usually the first step in helping people gain a proper understanding of their condition, and helping them and their caregivers access the services and support they need. There is growing evidence that psychotherapy and structured behavioural interventions can have profound benefits – particularly for children with autism.
Learning vital social and communication skills (e.g. around greetings, eye contact and respect for others) can ultimately make the difference in being able to go to school or get a job. More severely affected children who may never be able to speak can learn to sign and other alternative ways of communicating that will greatly enrich their lives. Therapeutic programs can also help family members adapt their home routines and develop activities around specific interests that will help people with autism build their confidence and self-esteem. There is also growing evidence that music, art and other creative activities can have very positive long-term benefits.
Where can you get a diagnosis?
If you suspect that you have some of the symptoms of autism, it is never too late to seek a diagnosis. Bring your concerns to your doctor and ask them to recommend a psychiatrist or psychologist with experience in diagnosing ASD in adults. It may help to bring a list of the symptoms, behaviours and feelings that give you greatest cause for concern.
Assessments for ASD include direct observations, checklists and questionnaires, and discussions with individuals and family members about specific personal challenges. A comprehensive assessment will highlight areas of strength as well as areas that may benefit from intervention. When you undertake your first assessment, it may be worth bringing along someone who knows and cares about you – particularly someone who may have known you in childhood. Many adults with autism have difficulty explaining their challenges, and someone who knows you well may be able to help identify the behaviours that create issues for you – and help your therapist devise better strategies to overcome them.
How important is it for an adult to be diagnosed?
Although many adults have been living undiagnosed with autism for years, a diagnosis is no less important for an adult than a child. As well as answering many questions you will have had about your own habits and challenges, a formal diagnosis will help you explain your condition to (and generate understanding and support from) family, friends, colleagues and others. And, of course, it will enable you to access treatment and services that over time will help to increase your independence and overcome personal challenges. A formal ASD diagnosis is also necessary to access NDIS funding for specific services.
How will life improve after diagnosis?
Many support services and therapies exist that can help adults with autism make the most of their abilities, develop new skills, find satisfying employment, develop new relationships, and enjoy a greater degree of independence. As with any challenge, it is critical to choose services and supports that address the specific needs of you and your family, focus on your strengths and abilities, and maintain a flexible approach to emerging possibilities.
Research shows that engaging in activities of personal interest can help people with autism feel more competent, autonomous and socially connected, and reduce levels of anxiety. People with autism often develop a deep interest and knowledge in a specific subject – a characteristic that, if harnessed carefully, can be of great value to a community group, a sports club or an employer.
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