Christine McGuinness has spoken about being diagnosed with autism at the age of 33, after husband, Paddy, suspected that she had the disorder.

Blackpool-born Christine was diagnosed with autism earlier this year and she talked about the experience to the Loose Women panel.

The couple’s children, Penelope, Leo and Felicity, all have autism and Christine and Paddy questioned if there was a genetic link.

While filming their upcoming BBC documentary, Our Family and Autism, Christine went for an AQ test and discovered that she was “quite high” on the spectrum – but husband, Paddy, had is suspicions long before the official diagnosis.

Christine explained: “[Paddy] said that he’d known for a while and that he had thought it for quite a long time.

“When the children got diagnosed we were talking about all the food aversions and he kept thinking to himself ‘they’re actually really like Christine’."

Speaking to ITV’s Loose Women, she said: “I’ve never been really social – I don’t have a lot of friends. I can come across quite confident and that I can speak to anybody.

“I can hold a conversation like this, but [can’t] actually build a friendship.

“I’m always worried that I don’t really know what to say…. going to big events with my husband I would worry just being in a room with hundreds of people I don’t know.

“I would sit with my head down or make excuses to leave the room because I was finding it all quite overwhelming.”

She added that school was “really difficult” and felt like she didn’t fit in, causing her to leave school at 14 because she was “really struggling”.

Christine added that she has “masked” her autism symptoms throughout her life.

Speaking to the Loose Women panel, she explained: “I’ve realised that I’ve masked my whole life.

“Masking is quite common, more so for women and girls with autism, but it’s basically you learn how to behave and learn what to say… how to laugh."

Christine says she hasn’t told her children they are autistic yet but adds that her diagnosis will make it “easier” for her kids to understand it when she does tell them.”

She explained: "There is a part of me that’s enjoying it now, now it’s becoming easier because I want my children to go out and have fun. I don’t want autism to hold any of us back.

“The best thing to come out of it is my children. When we do tell them they’re autistic, I can say, ‘mummy is too.’

"I can say, ‘you’re just a bit like mummy - it’s not going to hold you back in life mummy’s working, mummy’s married, mummy’s got a family.'”

15 signs of autism in adults

While the first signs of autism are typically seen in early childhood, it’s not uncommon for it to be picked up much later in life.

“So many autistic people and families will see a lot of themselves in Christine McGuinness’ powerful words, particularly women and girls,” says  National Autistic Society (NAS) chief executive, Caroline Stevens.

 “Every autistic person is different, but the core characteristics of autism are always the same, whether you’re six or 60.”

She explains the process for diagnosing adults can be complex, as a diagnostician or doctor will want to look back over a person’s whole life and how they developed and interacted with people and the world. But she stresses: “A diagnosis can be life-changing and vital to getting timely care and support, and many autistic adults find that a diagnosis in later life explains things about themselves and how they’ve experienced the world since they were children.

“Almost everyone has heard of autism now, but few people understand what it’s actually like to be autistic – both the strengths and how hard life can be without the right support.”

But what are some of the symptoms of autism in adulthood? The NAS explains:

1. Difficulty interpreting language: You may have difficulties understanding the meaning of both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures, sarcasm, tone of voice or figures of speech, making it hard to have back-and-forth conversations or tell what someone’s feeling.

2. Taking things literally: You might take things literally and not understand abstract concepts.

3. Slow information processing: It may take you more time than others to process information or answer questions.

4. You repeat things: You may sometimes repeat what other people say to you (echolalia) – this may be because although you’ve heard what’s been said, you’re still processing it.

5. People can think you’re insensitive: You may have difficulty ‘reading’ people in social situations, struggling to interpret their sometimes subtle cues that indicate how they’re feeling or what their intentions are. This may make others think you’re being insensitive.

6. You’re hard to ‘read’: Similarly, you may use limited facial expressions yourself, making it difficult for others to interpret your thoughts and feelings – you may struggle with eye contact and look away a lot during conversations.

7. You get overwhelmed: When social situations overload you, you may leave the room or area to get time alone.

8. You haven’t got many friends: And may find it hard to make friends.

9. Your behaviour can be repetitive: Your may do things repetitively, to help you cope with unpredictable aspects of life that may confuse you. So you may want to always travel the same way to work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast. This repetitive behaviour may also show itself in repeated movements like rocking, twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. The NAS says this can help calm autistic people, but it can sometimes be done simply because they enjoy it.

10. You like rituals: You may have rituals, or like to keep your possessions in a particular order, and get upset or angry if your ritual is disturbed or your things are moved.

11. You don’t like change: Change to routine can be upsetting for someone with autism – this could be anything from coping with big events like Christmas, or just uncertainty at work.

12. Over or under-sensitivity: Autistic people may be over or under-sensitive to a whole range of things, including sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures and pain. The NAS says this can range from finding background sounds like music in a restaurant terribly loud or distracting, even though other people can just ignore it, to preferring not to be hugged because it can be physically uncomfortable.

13. You have highly focused interests: Many autistic people are fascinated by, and have encyclopaedic knowledge of, specific interests – take Greta Thunberg, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and her devotion to climate activism, and Packham’s love and impressive knowledge about the natural world. Just like Thunberg and Packham, autistic people will often become experts in their special interests and like to share their knowledge.

14. You get anxious: Social situations, or facing change, can make adults with autism very anxious, and the NAS says that while it’s important for autistic people to know what triggers their anxiety and learn to cope with it, this may not be easy because they can struggle to recognise their own emotions. As a result, the NAS says more than a third of autistic people have serious mental health issues.

15. You may have meltdowns/shutdowns: If you’ve got autism, you might lose control if you become overwhelmed by a situation. This is a meltdown or shutdown – a meltdown might involve shouting, screaming, crying, kicking, lashing out, and/or biting, while during a shutdown an autistic person may simply go quiet or switch off.

To find out more, or to seek a diagnosis, speak to your GP. To watch Christine’s exclusive interview with the Loose Women panel, catch up on ITV Player.