Diagnosis and management of autism in adults

Practitioner. 2013 May;257(1761):13-6, 2-3.


Autism affects 1.1% of the adult population. The spectrum of symptoms is wide; some individuals have above average intelligence and are fully independent, while others have limited independence because of a learning disability. Developmental delay is a core feature, and autism is usually diagnosed in childhood. High-functioning individuals with autism, Asperger's syndrome, may remain undiagnosed until adulthood. Autism is a life-long condition characterised by problems in two core dimensions: difficulties with social communication and strongly repetitive behaviour, resistance to change or restricted interests.The history should identify early developmental and behavioural problems in different settings e.g. at home, in education or employment. Sensory and GI problems are very common, and should be asked about. The Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ-10) is a 10-item questionnaire for people with suspected autism. The advantage of using this in primary care is that it provides a time-efficient, structured way of ascertaining key symptoms and clearly signals those who should be referred for further assessment. Patients should be referred if autism is suspected clinically and a diagnosis of autism should be confirmed by a specialist multidisciplinary team. If a diagnosis of autism is made, clinicians should do a risk assessment and formulate risk and crisis management plans. These should include details of the roles and responsibilities of both the specialist team and primary care team in managing crisis situations. For adults with autism a group-based or an individual learning programme to improve social interaction is recommended. Adults with autism have high rates of unemployment, and employment programmes have been successfully used to support people

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder* / therapy
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation / methods*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / standards*