Adult Autism Assessment
Updated: May 17, 2022
I am getting more calls about ASD assessments for adults. I completed my first adult ASD assessment about ten years ago, and requests for assessments have increased dramatically.
An adult autism assessment usually involves several interviews and the completion of several self-report forms. These interviews and forms are to judge whether or not a person meets the diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder in either the DSM or ICD diagnostic systems. These are tools medical and mental health professionals use to diagnose certain conditions. Diagnosis aims to create a common language for professionals to discuss and share their observations and provide treatment. Assessments can be relatively straightforward, taking a couple of hours of interviews, form completion, and report writing. However, they can also be extensive and complex, taking many hours and generating dozens of pages of official reports. The complexity of the process depends on the presenting problem (i.e., why the person is seeking an evaluation) and the materials used by the evaluator (i.e., there are limited "standard" tools for these assessments). Assessing adults for autism has become a specialty because most people with an autism diagnosis were diagnosed as children. As a result, knowledge about adult autism assessments is a growing field.
There are many reasons people report to me they might not want to attend an autism assessment. Some report being concerned about the stigma of being "on the spectrum." They think a diagnosis might make others (or even themselves) despise them. They might be concerned that they will end up resenting all the people in their life who failed to help them when they were a child properly. Some people are concerned about the financial cost of the assessment or the investment of time in the testing process. Finally, some people are content to read about autism and come to their own conclusions about how it affects them.
There are still many people who seek professional autism assessments, even in late adulthood. I have enjoyed watching how the assessment process and assessment results have changed people's lives. Clearly, there is no single reason people seek an autism diagnosis, but there is a relatively common experience most people who achieve an autism diagnosis report to me. They tell me that being diagnosed with autism gives them a framework to think about many aspects of their life that are mysterious or confusing. Their conclusions can be upsetting or satisfying, but they report many questions are put to rest. I will stop short of saying that an autism diagnosis brings people peace. Instead, the diagnosis stirs up new questions and dilemmas in many ways. However, these new dilemmas are in a different class from the old ones. With a framework for thinking about them, provided by the diagnosis, people report they can see a path forward.
My general opinion is that more information is better than less, but I don't know what decision I would make if I were an adult wondering if I had autism. I think I would be tempted by the possibility of a framework for organizing some of my disorganized thoughts.