Exploring Adult Autism Treatment Possibilities

Discover empowering adult autism treatment options, from effective behavioral therapies to online interventions.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
May 7, 2024
Published On
May 7, 2024

Understanding Adult Autism

To effectively navigate the journey of adult autism treatment, it's important to first understand the basics of adult autism, the spectrum it presents, and how it's diagnosed in adults.

The Spectrum of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. As the name suggests, it's a spectrum disorder, which means it encompasses a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. The spectrum nature of ASD is due to the variety of signs and symptoms present, along with differing impacts and support needs for individuals [1].

Adults diagnosed with autism are likely to be at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, known as autism with low support needs. This is characterized by mild autistic traits related to social communication and sensory responses, as indicated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Individuals may not realize they have autism until they become more aware of what ASD is or after a child is diagnosed with autism, recognizing similarities in traits [2].

Diagnosis in Adults

There are no medical tests such as blood tests or imaging tests to detect ASD. Diagnosis is primarily based on a doctor's review of behaviors, in-person assessments, and self-reported symptoms in adults.

To diagnose autism in adults, clinicians use the current DSM-5 criteria adapted for this age group through a series of in-person observations and interactions, along with considering reported symptoms.

Additionally, ASD can be diagnosed in adults using tools like the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2), and self-administered ASD questionnaires online like the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) and its derivatives.

Understanding adult autism is the first step in the journey of managing it. With this knowledge, individuals can better navigate their way through the range of adult autism treatment options available, and find the best way to manage their unique set of symptoms and challenges.

Adult Autism Treatment Options

When it comes to adult autism treatment, a variety of options are available. These can be broadly categorized into behavioral therapies, medications for symptoms, and alternative therapies. Each of these treatment methods aims to improve the quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral approaches are widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals for treating symptoms of ASD. The most notable among these is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a treatment method that encourages desired behaviors and discourages undesired ones. This approach aims to improve a variety of skills in individuals with ASD [3].

Another common therapeutic approach for people with ASD is Speech and Language Therapy. This method aims to enhance the person’s understanding and use of speech and language, regardless of how the individual communicates (verbally, through signs, gestures, pictures, or electronic devices).

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is another developmental approach used for individuals aged 12-48 months. Based on the principles of ABA, this method uses play, social exchanges, and shared attention in natural settings to improve language, social, and learning skills.

Medications for Symptoms

While there are no medications that treat the core symptoms of ASD, some can help manage co-occurring symptoms. For example, medications may be used to address high energy levels, focusing issues, or self-harming behavior. Additionally, psychological conditions like anxiety or depression and medical conditions like seizures, sleep problems, or gastrointestinal issues can also be managed with medication.

Alternative Therapies

A range of alternative therapies may also be beneficial for individuals with ASD. These include auditory integration training, B6/Magnesium supplements, music therapy, relaxation strategies, and sensory therapies. However, these methods are not as well-researched in terms of their effectiveness and safety. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with a physician before trying these methods.

In conclusion, the best adult autism treatment is often a combination of these methods, tailored to the individual's needs and symptoms. It's important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another, and treatment plans should be adjusted accordingly. As research in the field continues, more effective treatment options for adults with ASD are likely to become available.

Challenges in Accessing Care

While there are diverse treatment options for adults with autism, gaining access to such care can be challenging. Among the key barriers are a shortage of healthcare services, lack of physician knowledge and training, and cost and insurance issues.

Healthcare Service Shortage

One of the main obstacles in the path to adult autism treatment is a shortage of healthcare services, especially for those living outside metropolitan areas. This shortage results in clinician burnout, and extends wait times for diagnosis and treatment. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the lack of prompt and appropriate healthcare can exacerbate their condition and hinder their overall well-being [5].

Physician Knowledge and Training

The level of physician knowledge and training in relation to autism can greatly impact the quality of care individuals with ASD receive. Unfortunately, many physicians lack specialized knowledge of screening, diagnosing, and referring individuals with ASD. There is a pressing need for improvements in physician training programs to ensure that medical professionals are well-equipped to cater to the unique needs of those with ASD.

Cost and Insurance Barriers

The cost of healthcare services poses a significant challenge for individuals with ASD, particularly in the United States. Families with lower socioeconomic status often have limited access to insurance coverage for recommended ASD services, which can restrict their ability to seek necessary care. The financial burden can further compound the stress and challenges associated with managing ASD [5].

Additionally, language barriers can further complicate access to healthcare. For non-English speaking parents of children with ASD, navigating healthcare services can be particularly challenging. This can lead to miscommunication with providers, misunderstandings of administrative forms, and ultimately, a hindrance to accessing vital treatment.

Understanding these barriers is the first step to addressing them. By shining a light on these issues, there is hope for improved accessibility to adult autism treatment, leading to better outcomes for individuals with ASD.

Effective Interventions for Adults

The field of adult autism treatment is continually evolving, with various interventions showing promise in improving the quality of life for adults on the autism spectrum. Among these, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), social functioning interventions, and Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT) stand out as particularly effective.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) represents a highly beneficial intervention for high-functioning autistic adults. This therapeutic approach aims to improve social functioning and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The focus is on enhancing social skills, managing stress, and developing adaptive skills, which can significantly improve the individual's ability to navigate various life situations [6].

CBT-based interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in improving overall well-being and daily functioning for adults on the autism spectrum. However, it's important to note that outcomes can vary depending on the individual's specific needs and the extent of their autism symptoms.

Social Functioning Interventions

Another beneficial approach to adult autism treatment is social functioning interventions. Programs such as the PEERS YA program and the ACCESS program have shown effectiveness in enhancing social skills, interactions, and empathy in high-functioning autistic adults.

These interventions utilize a structured CBT approach, incorporating concrete activities designed to improve social understanding and interaction. By focusing on these areas, individuals with autism can gain valuable skills that enhance their social functioning and overall quality of life.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT)

Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT) is another form of CBT that has shown positive outcomes in the treatment of high-functioning autistic adults. MBT focuses on mindfulness practices to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and rumination [6].

By practicing mindfulness, individuals with autism can learn to manage their emotions better, reduce their stress levels, and improve their overall mental health. MBT is a promising approach that complements other treatment methods, offering a comprehensive treatment strategy for adults with autism.

In conclusion, CBT, social functioning interventions, and MBT are effective interventions for adults with autism. However, it's crucial to recognize the need for more extensive, well-controlled studies with diverse samples to further explore the effectiveness of these psychosocial interventions. By continuing to research and refine these interventions, we can better support adults on the autism spectrum and improve their quality of life.

Promising Online Interventions

In the digital age, online interventions are becoming more prevalent and have shown promise in providing effective adult autism treatment options. Two such promising online therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) programs and Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT).

Online CBT Programs

CBT-based interventions have shown promise in improving social functioning and reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in high-functioning autistic adults. These interventions focus on social skills training, coping with stress, and enhancing adaptive skills Source. Social functioning interventions, such as the PEERS YA program and the ACCESS program, have been effective in improving social skills, interactions, and empathy in high-functioning autistic adults. These interventions utilize a structured CBT approach and incorporate concrete activities to improve social understanding and interaction Source.

Online CBT programs offer the advantage of accessibility for individuals who may not be able to attend in-person therapy sessions due to geographical, time, or cost constraints. These programs can often be accessed through a computer or smartphone, allowing for flexibility and convenience. However, the effectiveness of these online CBT programs in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in adults with autism is still being researched.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy Online

Mindfulness-based interventions, as a form of CBT, have also demonstrated positive outcomes in reducing anxiety, depression, and rumination Source. The practice of mindfulness involves focusing one's attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment. This approach can help individuals with autism to better manage their emotions and reduce stress.

Online mindfulness-based therapy programs provide an accessible and convenient platform for individuals to practice mindfulness at their own pace. These programs often include guided mindfulness exercises, lessons on mindfulness principles, and support from trained therapists. While promising, more research is needed to understand the effects of online MBT on depressive symptoms, daily functioning, and overall well-being in adults with autism Source.

Future Research Needs

While online CBT and MBT programs offer promising avenues for adult autism treatment, more research is needed to fully understand their effectiveness. There is a need for larger, well-controlled studies with diverse samples to further explore the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions in high-functioning autistic adults Source. Future research should focus on identifying the specific components of interventions that lead to positive outcomes and optimizing treatment approaches. This will help to refine online interventions and ensure they provide the most benefit for adults with autism.


[1]: https://www.healthline.com/health/autism-in-adults

[2]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/diagnosing-autism-or-asperger-syndrome-in-adults-259946

[3]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[4]: https://www.additudemag.com/autism-spectrum-disorder-treatments/

[5]: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41390-021-01465-y

[6]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10808656/