social media and autism
social media and autism

The Social Media Influence On Diagnosing Autism In Adults And Adolescents

Posted on October 10, 2022 by Henry Ford Health Staff
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Social media, whether you love it or hate it, has inarguably become a place to learn new things and connect with others. And it is because of social media and the internet that awareness surrounding autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is at an all-time high. Unfortunately, many teens and young adults are questioning an autism diagnosis based solely on information gathered on social media or through other online communities.

“While autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is important to look at the reasoning for seeking a diagnosis,” says Jannel Phillips, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist for the Henry Ford Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. “What we’ve been seeing recently is that adolescents are identifying with the experiences of people within these online communities and starting to question if they might have autism too.”

How Autism Is Diagnosed

Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood. Usually, if there is a question about an autism diagnosis, a parent, pediatrician or teacher will voice concerns based on observations of atypical development and behavior in a young child. Autism and other neurological conditions – such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – can be diagnosed at a young age because of common indicators that doctors can identify such as language delays, social differences and poor eye contact.

Additionally, autism diagnoses should be diagnosed based on a multidisciplinary evaluation through an Autism Center of Excellence. This includes collaborative evaluations of a child from speech therapists, psychologists, developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists and other autism specialists.

Autism is not an acquired condition, but rather, it is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder that significantly impacts a child’s functioning throughout their development. In order for autism to be diagnosed in adults, there must be evidence of social differences, repetitive behaviors or restricted interests in early childhood.

Why People Are Self-Diagnosing Autism

The increased awareness of ASD has led many individuals to seek out confirmation of a perceived diagnosis, but often, they do not meet diagnostic criteria. It is possible for patients to experience symptoms such as fidgeting and restrictive behaviors (or fixating on topics or objects) without having a neurodevelopmental disorder.

“This newer group of patients that we are seeing have a perception that any social awkwardness or quirkiness they might be experiencing can be better explained through an autism diagnosis,” says Dr. Phillips. “People that have autism might have these same characteristics, but there is also a true neurological disconnect and lack of social awareness.”

In some cases, these symptoms can be the result of social pragmatic communication disorder (SPCD), a condition characterized by persistent difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication for social purposes. SPCD is often compared to autism, though it does not include repetitive behaviors or restricted interests as part of the diagnostic criteria.

How You Can Find Answers

Turning to a psychologist or behavioral health specialist is often the first step in better understanding your behaviors and concerns. Common concerns can include difficulty making friends, feeling like you don’t fit in with peers, or becoming fixated on specific topics or objects. Again, these difficulties have been present since early childhood and caused significant distress.

“When patients come in, we try to understand their reasoning for seeking a diagnostic evaluation,” says Dr. Phillips. “Once we do this, we can suggest strategies for helping them work through these challenges regardless of the diagnosis.”

For example, if someone is struggling to communicate or make conversation with others, they may benefit from learning how to pick up on nonverbal cues that are essential for making conversation. Individuals with autism can benefit from similar strategies.

For an individual who comes in seeking an autism diagnosis, it can be difficult to hear they do not meet diagnostic criteria. However, this does not mean they will not benefit from behavioral health interventions or find comfort within online communities. Rather, be mindful of the information you expose yourself to.

“While there are great positives in finding online communities that you resonate with, not everything you read online is necessarily accurate or true,” says Dr. Phillips. “Always make sure that your sources are reliable and backed with verified medical information. If you have concerns about your health, talk with your doctor before self-diagnosing.”


To schedule an evaluation with a neuropsychologist at Henry Ford, call 313-876-2526.

Dr. Jannel Phillips is a neuropsychologist who sees patients at Henry Ford’s Behavioral Health clinic at One Ford Place in Detroit, Henry Ford Medical Center – Hamtramck and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories : FeelWell
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