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Hidden in Plain Sight: 11 Overlooked Traits in Autistic Adults
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects individuals across their lifespan. While awareness about autism has increased over the years, the focus has largely been on children. Adults with autism often exhibit traits that are overlooked or misinterpreted due to misconceptions or lack of awareness. This article aims to shed light on these lesser-known traits, with real-life examples, to foster a deeper understanding and support for autistic adults.
11 Overlooked Traits In Autistic Adults
Masking or camouflaging:
Many adults with autism learn to hide or mask their autistic traits to fit in with social norms, making their autism less apparent to others.
At a lively dinner party, an adult with autism skillfully hides their discomfort in social situations by mimicking the behavior and conversational patterns of other guests. They blend in seamlessly, making it difficult for others to notice their underlying autistic traits.
Subtle sensory sensitivities:
Sensory issues may not be as obvious in adults, but they might still struggle with sensitivities to sounds, smells, textures, or lights.
While walking through a bustling city, an adult with autism discreetly wears earplugs and sunglasses to cope with the overwhelming noise and bright lights. Passersby might not notice these subtle accommodations for their sensory sensitivities.
Anxiety and depression:
Mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, can often co-occur with autism and may overshadow autistic traits.
An adult with autism finds solace in solitary activities, such as painting or gardening, to cope with their co-occurring anxiety and depression. Onlookers might perceive them as introverted or emotionally distant, without realizing the presence of autism.
Executive functioning challenges:
Difficulties with organization, planning, and time management are often overlooked in adults with autism.
In their home, an adult with autism relies on color-coded labels, to-do lists, and a detailed schedule to manage their day-to-day tasks. To outsiders, their living space appears orderly and well-organized, masking the executive functioning challenges they face.
Social communication nuances:
Subtle difficulties in understanding non-verbal cues, sarcasm, or humor might not be immediately apparent.
During a casual conversation at a coffee shop, an adult with autism struggles to pick up on sarcasm and non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions or body language. They may appear overly serious or literal to their conversation partner, who remains unaware of their autistic traits.
Special interests and hyperfocus:
Intense interests and the ability to hyperfocus on specific topics or activities may be perceived as quirky or eccentric, rather than as an autistic trait.
An adult with autism spends hours meticulously researching and documenting the history of a specific architectural style. Their intense passion for the subject might be seen as a unique hobby or fascination, rather than a characteristic of their autism.
Difficulty in regulating emotions or understanding the emotions of others may be misunderstood as moodiness or lack of empathy.
At a concert, an adult with autism becomes overwhelmed and visibly upset when a favorite song is played. Onlookers might interpret their reaction as moodiness, without realizing the emotional dysregulation common in autism.
Adults with autism may struggle with adapting to changes in routine, environments, or expectations, which can be misinterpreted as stubbornness.
When faced with an unexpected change in plans, such as a canceled flight, an adult with autism becomes visibly distressed and has difficulty adjusting to the new situation. Fellow travelers might perceive their reaction as stubbornness or inflexibility.
Difficulty with transitions:
Moving from one task or activity to another can be challenging for adults with autism, and this may not always be recognized.
An adult with autism takes longer to switch between activities, such as transitioning from watching a movie to cooking dinner. They might rely on timers or alarms to help them shift gears, which can go unnoticed by others
Physical clumsiness or coordination issues:
Motor skills and coordination difficulties can be overlooked or attributed to other causes in adults with autism.
During a group yoga class, an adult with autism struggles with balance and coordination. Their difficulties with motor skills might be attributed to a lack of fitness or experience, rather than their autism.
Burnout and shutdowns:
Adults with autism may experience emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion due to chronic stress or masking, which can lead to temporary periods of reduced functioning.
After an extended period of socializing and masking their autistic traits, an adult with autism experiences a temporary shutdown. They retreat to a quiet, dimly lit room to recover, and their need for solitude might be misinterpreted as a desire for alone time rather than a result of autistic burnout.
With autism rates on the rise, it is more important than ever to recognize that adults with autism can exhibit a range of subtle and often overlooked traits. By raising awareness and understanding of these characteristics, we can foster greater empathy, support, and acceptance for autistic individuals in various aspects of life. It is crucial for society to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about autism, and to appreciate the unique strengths and challenges that autistic adults experience. This understanding will help create more inclusive environments and promote the well-being of autistic individuals throughout their lives.