- “Older People Projected to Outnumber Children for First Time in U.S. History” United States Census. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/cb18-41-population-projections.html. Published 13 Mar. 2018.
- Charlton, Rebecca A., “Autism features may be more severe in old age” Spectrum News. Retrieved from https://www.spectrumnews.org/opinion/autism-features-may-be-more-severe-in-old-age/. Published 18 October 2016.
- “Autism Spectrum Disorder” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html. Published 3 September 2019.
In all honesty, I think some of us within our society tend to form the notion that once a person with autism becomes an adult, the individual no longer has an autism diagnosis. Some people make the notion that once a child becomes an adult, they are no longer on the autism spectrum, and more often than not, this is a false notion.
Reviewing a release from the United States Census, it is projected that, “By 2035, there will be 78.0 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.7 million under the age of 18” (United States Census, 2018). At the same time, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the context of the prevalence of autism, “About 1 in 59 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder” (CDC, 2019). What the data suggests is that there is a positive correlation involving two variables: the number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and the number of older adults that are living at the age of 65 and over. Once considered a “childhood disability”, autism spectrum disorder needs to be continued to be recognized as a disability that can affect all age groups, including in adulthood and older adulthood where research seems to be lacking.
What promotes great concern is the possibility of autism traits becoming more “severe” in older adulthood. Why is that? The biopsychosocial perspective of someone on the autism spectrum will change as the individual gets older. What is unfortunate is that, “as age increases so does the severity of autism traits in social situations, communication, and flexible thinking” (Spectrum News, 2016). People that are on the autism spectrum, and are living independently, may perhaps lose the capacity to function on their own, especially when the health and well-being of older adults with autism decline. Families of older adult with autism then have to get into discussions about residential settings, long-term care facilities, and even nursing homes, especially for older adults on the autism spectrum who are legally determined by the court system that they are not capable of caring and supporting themselves and rely on the guardianship of parents; relatives; and siblings which can ultimately change when loved ones pass away. When it comes to money management, while some older adults with autism may be able to financially care for themselves, others have to rely on conservatorship, especially in situations where older adults with autism experience fraud from others who take advantage of them, or for those that are just uncertain how to financially manage their expenses. Some people on the autism spectrum are also known to be, “picky eaters”, so some older people on the autism spectrum may experience malnutrition. Oftentimes, older adults may experience comorbidity of a combination of different disabilities and medical conditions. People on the autism spectrum often experience comorbidity with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. While these are just a few of the many potential implications that older adulthood can have in terms of an autism diagnosis, we need to improve our research strategies, and we need to become more knowledgeable about autism in older adulthood, because the truth is that autism is not going to end once someone goes from being a child to an adult.
Our society needs to take action now so that we are prepared for what is to occur in the years to come, when we can do everything in our power to help and support people with autism of all ages, including older adulthood.