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New tool to help detect hidden signs in young with autism

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Researchers have developed a potential new tool to help clinicians detect hidden signs of autism in adults.

Autism is usually diagnosed in childhood but a growing number of adults are being diagnosed with the condition, even in mid-to-late adulthood.

Many adults develop compensatory psychological strategies to hide their symptoms from clinicians, employers and even their own families.

These strategies make the developmental condition much harder to diagnose and “performing” to fit into society can place a huge mental strain on the autistic person.

Eloise Stark, 30, a postgraduate student at Oxford University diagnosed with autism three years ago, said the hardest part of being autistic was trying to “hide it,” and likened it to wearing a “mask.”

Researchers from Cardiff University, King’s College London and the University of Bath have now devised the first potential tool to help detect psychological strategies that disguise signs of autism.

In a new study, published today in Molecular Autism, the researchers outline a checklist of 31 compensatory strategies that doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists could look for or ask their clients about.

They developed the checklist by asking autistic people about their experiences of using psychological strategies in everyday social situations.

Dr. Lucy Livingston, who led the research, said: “This allowed us to come up with a checklist of the most frequently-reported ‘social scripts,” including things like copying gestures and facial expressions of others, learning when to laugh at a joke without understanding why it is funny and deliberately making eye contact, even when it might be really uncomfortable.”

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