What Are the Cognitive Effects of Autism in Adults?

Disclaimer: We always strive for inclusion. In this article, we are primarily using identity-first language which is the preferred phrasing for many individuals within the autism community. However, we know that there are varying opinions on whether identity-first or person-first language is more respectful. Please know that we have the utmost respect for the autism community and are always seeking to learn and to be inclusive to all.

In recent years, an increasing number of individuals are being diagnosed with autism, including many who are diagnosed as adults. These increases are likely due to a wider acceptance of and more discussion around autism, along with updated criteria for autism in 2013. With this shift, it’s interesting to explore how the condition may present differently in adults than in children. In this article, we’ll explore what the cognitive characteristics of autism are, how they may differ in adults and children, and why this information might be helpful.

Cognition in Autistic Adults

In a series of studies around autism in adults, researchers found that there isn’t one particular cognitive difference that individuals have in common, but a collection of higher order cognitive skills that can be impacted by autism.

The researchers saw no significant difference in IQ between autistic and allistic individuals. (Note: Allistic refers to individuals who do not have autism.) However, there were key differences noted in certain areas. Social cognition skills were the most notable differences, including the ability to perceive and process emotions, as well as “theory of mind” which refers to the understanding that others have their own mental states and beliefs, which can differ from one’s own mental state and beliefs. 

Outside of social cognition, researchers noted that there were commonly deficits in verbal learning and memory. However, it appears that these deficits were less pronounced in autistic adults than in autistic children. This could be due to a combination of education, cognitive therapy, or simply the individuals’ learning to hone these skills as they grow up and gain more life experience.

Why is This Helpful to Know?

As autism has slowly become more accepted in much of society, more adults are curious about whether they may be autistic. Testing is becoming more common. If an adult is diagnosed with autism, it can be helpful for them to know what this may mean for their cognition, mental health, and lifestyle. For many adults who are diagnosed, they might better understand their skills and challenges, which can help them to understand their needs in day-to-day life.

For example, theory of mind is helpful for interacting with others. If an individual has a strong theory of mind, they may be able to more easily solve interpersonal problems and maintain relationships and friendships. If an individual learns that they experience challenges with this particular skill, it can lead to seeking cognitive therapy and support. These resources may be able to help them understand this challenge and face it more effectively.

If an adult suspects that they may have autism, seeking a diagnosis can help them to understand themselves better and work on their unique strengths and challenges. In some cases, therapy involving cognitive stimulation using tools such as HappyNeuron Pro may help autistic individuals to work on these skills.

Quick summary:

  • The number of adults diagnosed with autism is increasing in the modern world.
  • There are some key differences between autistic and allistic adults, particularly in social cognition skills, memory, and verbal learning.
  • An autism diagnosis is not a bad thing. Certainly, a diagnosis can involve feelings of surprise, grief, and endless other emotions. However, it is very useful information and can help individuals to understand themselves better.
Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

Related Content in Areas of Cognition,Autism,Cognitive Conditions,Cognitive Stimulation,Cognitive Therapy,Education,Learning Disabilities,Memory,Social Cognition

Recent Articles

HappyNeuron Pro Logo

Are you a therapist looking for Cognitive Stimulation tools for your patients?

Check out HappyNeuron Pro’s FREE Worksheets !