You may have heard the phrase “if you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” That’s important to keep in mind when trying to determine if you or someone you love might be autistic.
People don’t always fit into boxes. But there are some common characteristics that do tend to show up frequently in folks who are autistic but flew under the radar as children.
Why is that the case? Well, our understanding of autism has grown tremendously in recent decades, and is now understood to exist on a spectrum that encompasses a much broader range of people. Unfortunately the diagnostic process has not yet caught up with current understanding.
The majority of autism specialists still only work with children (making it more difficult for adults to find someone who can assess an adult) and lot of the folks who don’t fit outdated stereotypes of what autism looks like are getting missed. This is unfortunate, since a lot of those outdated stereotypes are actually based on traits that are not part of autism itself, but rather with conditions that can co-occur with it. So, for example, while being autistic has nothing to do with how intelligent you are, others are more likely to pick up on your autism if you also have a noticeable co-occurring developmental disability.
The following list is not meant to be exhaustive or diagnostic, but rather a starting point. This is not medical advise. If a lot of these traits are showing up in your life, that’s something you may want to explore further. Keep in mind that a number of the things on this list are not ‘symptoms’ of any kind, but are rather characteristics of someone with a particular kind of wiring that may be advantageous or challenging depending on the situation.
List of Common Autistic Traits
- May have identified with labels like ‘introverted,’ ‘Highly Sensitive Person (HSP),’ ‘Social Anxiety,’ ‘highly independent’
- May have been diagnosed as ADHD, which may or may not totally fit
- Has sensory processing issues that can be either hypersensitive or hyposensitive (senses are either heightened or dulled)
- May have had difficulties maintaining intimate relationships or sticking with the same job
- Frequently in Fight/Flight (heightened sense of threat)
- Health profile that includes things like GI issues, migraines, sleep issues, hyper-inflammatory responses
- Hard to sit still and there is a typical movement pattern like hair twirling, pacing, restless legs that amps up in times of anxiety
- Literal thinking
- Tendency toward bluntness
- Can be perceived by others as rigid/intolerant of doing things someone else’s way
- Intense special interests/ deep dives into topics they are into (may do really well academically as a result)
- Hard to shift gears (getting interrupted really throws concentration)
- May be prone to getting stuck in an emotional state—takes a while to recover after getting worked up about something
- Rehearsing and replaying conversations internally
- Enjoys and needs time alone
- Thinks in pictures
- Good at pattern recognition
May be highly analytical
- Social interactions may be exhausting— issues in things like eye contact, not knowing how to end a conversation and rambling on, needing time to recover from events, having no tolerance for chit chat or being perceived as ‘only talking about themself’ by others.
- Prefers routine in certain areas (may eat the same foods every, do things in a certain order every time, etc.)
- May be hyper-organized/prepared (never show up to anything late), but there is an underlying anxiety behind it
- Can be hard to go with the flow
- Don’t like being told what to do and work very well independently
- Fitting into different social settings by suppressing some personal traits or trying to imitate what others are doing so as not to stand out
For further information, check out the following free guide:
Or check out the book “Is this Autism: A Guide for Clinicians and Everyone Else” by Donna Henderson