Autism Spectrum Disorder: Symptoms & Diagnosis

Jesse Masson, MA, LPC

Question:

David says, “My wife thinks that I may be on the autism spectrum. We have been married for about 13 years. What test should I take to find out?”

Read more to find out what counselor Jesse Masson has to say about the wide range of symptoms on the autism spectrum, the impact ASD has on daily life, how to be diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s, and what to do if you are diagnosed on the ASD.

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Jesse Masson MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor specializing in marriage counseling, anxiety, and depression treatment. You can schedule an appointment with Jesse for online counseling or in-person at our Kansas City, Missouri counseling center.

Video Transcript

(Transcript is generated by a software and may have discrepancies from the video.)

Cassie

Welcome to My Counselor Online. I’m Cassie and this is My Counselor Says. My Counselor Says is where you submit a question, either for yourself, or for a friend,  and one of our incredible therapists takes their time and answers your personal question. So let’s go find out what My Counselor Says.

Jesse Masson on the Autism Spectrum

A few things that we’ll talk about today are:

  1. What is the autism spectrum?

  2. What are the symptoms of autism?

  3. How does autism or Asperger’s impact everyday life?

  4. How do I get tested or diagnosed on the autism spectrum?

  5. What to do when diagnosed with autism.

So, what is autism? It’s referred to as the ASD. ASD stands for the Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Within the last few years, the medical and mental health communities have combined autism and asperger syndrome to be on a synonymous scale, even though there’s some great differences between the two, as well as within each of the two themselves.

The Wide Range of Symptoms on the Autism Spectrum Disorder

They range vastly. The symptoms differ between children and adults, and can also be very different for any two people. Whether it’s two adults with Asperger’s or two adults with autism, no two people are going to have the exact same symptoms or functioning capabilities. This is a good thing to keep in mind.

The range of symptoms for ASD are extreme. On the high end of the scale you have extreme autism, or even non-verbal autism, where people can be very dependent, and are not able to communicate verbally. On the lower end of the spectrum, we have somebody who is a very high functioning person with Asperger’s. From outward appearance, they might just seem like an extreme introvert, because they function so well.

It is in this area where there can be this tug of war, because for someone who seems really high functioning, there seems like there’s no other reason for this distress in their marriage or relationship, other than that they’re being a jerk or insensitive, or they’re not being aware.

And some part could be that, but there is some good understanding that needs to come out of that as well.

What are the Symptoms of Autism or Asperger’s?

Symptoms that you might see in a person with autism or Asperger’s are a difficulty picking up on social or emotional cues, that typically you or I might see. For example, seeing someone smile or laugh means that they find something to be enjoyable or humorous. And to a person on ASD spectrum, it can be really hard to pick up on why that person is laughing or smiling. It’s also hard to read facial cues.

Other symptoms could be finding it difficult to understand how someone else is feeling, in addition to struggling to pick up on social or emotional cues.

Typically, people on ASD spectrum have very few interests, but they are very passionate interests with high intensity. So whether it’s things that they collect or activities that they do, they stick with their interests, and are not really interested in exploring other things.

Along with that, routine is comfortable. Beyond the normal interactions of routine that we all enjoy, for those on ASD spectrum, if something is outside of routine, the change is very scary.

Another symptom is that noises can seem amplified or even painful to someone with autism or Asperger’s. We may experience someone dropping something, like a waitress dropping silverware in a restaurant. For someone not on ASD, they may think, “Oh, that was loud!” But someone who is on ASD may find it to be extremely loud and painful, and their threat level goes up, and they don’t feel safe.

Those with autism or asperger’s can also have extreme difficulty coping with interruptions. Maybe it’s from another person interrupting their work, or sounds from the surrounding environment that seem very intrusive and interruptive.

Those are just a few symptoms to highlight.

How does being diagnosed on ASD impact someone’s life?

We often ask why because of a certain level of awareness, whether that’s self awareness or pointed out to us from another person.

This is a good thing. Keep in mind that being aware of this is a good thing. Our self-awareness drives our desire to make sense of this, or to normalize our behavior, like, “Why am I feeling this way? Why am I not feeling that way? Why am I doing this? Why do I not want to do that?”

This is a better, healthier interaction, because we want to be self-aware.

Sometimes it is scary to be self-aware, because we’re afraid of what we might really discover. We may not want to know if that diagnosis puts me on the ASD scale.

Maybe we’re afraid of becoming the next ‘Rain Man’ and being impaired of our daily living.

The majority of the time, whenever I hear people refer to Autism spectrum or Asperger’s, they instantly think of the movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. It’s scary to think that you could be limited in that extreme way, right? That’s an extreme example.

Another concern of impact for us is our job functioning. I may feel like I’m doing my job okay, but if I have Asperger’s or autism, how’s that going to impair me, whether that’s in keeping my job, or being able to find work in the future?

And of course, this could cause concern regarding marriage and family; the emotional disconnect I might notice with my spouse, or difficulty empathizing with my kids when they come to me with their array of emotions.

How to Test for Autism & Aspberger’s

So let’s look at testing and diagnosing. How do I figure out if I’m on ASD?

There are a few different ways. A simple way is to take an online test or self assessment for free. These can give you a general idea of the possibility of where you might fall on the ASD scale.

You can see a family doctor. Be open, honest, and share your concerns with them. They can guide you towards getting a more specific diagnosis.

You could talk to a neuropsychologist or a psychiatrist. They have specific medical knowledge and understanding in this capacity specifically. And it’s important to remember that any formal diagnosis for the ASD can only come from a psychologist with a PhD, or a medical doctor.

What to do When Diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum Disorder

If you do get diagnosed, follow your doctor’s instructions and advice.

Also, seek counseling. Your therapist has specific emotional and behavioral knowledge to better understand what it is you’re experiencing, and how to engage with that as you are dealing with the symptoms and issues that come with Asperger’s or autism.

Through working with a therapist or counselor, you can learn how to develop emotional and behavioral skills, by using your cognitive strengths to learn these new skills.

And finally, remember that this is not the end. It’s just a new skill set that you’re learning for a healthier you and for others that you care about.

This is manageable. Don’t be afraid to reach out and schedule a time to talk with a therapist, to better understand yourself, or a loved one you suspect has autism.

Thanks for the great question. This touched on an issue that’s not often talked about or explored. This can have a significant impact on how to understand certain distresses in our relationships or marriage, either by eliminating it as a factor, or understanding it as a factor, and learn how to manage autism within the marriage.

Thanks for tuning in for our discussion today. Until next time, be healthy for yourself, by having some patience and grace as you learn.

Cassie

Thank you so much for submitting that question!  We certainly love to answer your questions. If you have a question for yourself or a friend, you  can submit it using our web page and then look for the answer in an upcoming edition of our weekly e-newsletter.

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