Aging with Autism: Why don’t we ever hear about it?
An increasingly popular subject in current research is how children with autism spectrum disorders will age. Likely a common question on the mind of those effected by autism is ‘what does the future hold?’
In recent years the number of diagnoses of individuals on the autism spectrum has increased significantly, in large part due to increased familiarity with the disorder. This has introduced a new area of interest we rarely hear about- aging with autism. Specifically, how will characteristics change with age and experience, and how can we aid in this transition?
The three main characteristics associated with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are:
- communication difficulties
- impaired social interactions
- restrictive, repetitive behaviours
How might these change with age?
Perkins et al. (2012) suggest that changes may occur as a result of three different causations: physiological changes from the aging process (changes with one’s hearing, vision, and other physical functions), psychological awareness (personal self-awareness developed as one grows older), and environmental exposure (activities, social interactions, life experience).
Some research suggests that as those diagnosed with ASD age, they may be affected by physiological changes more severely than those without. Normal aging processes such as vision and hearing loss can be harder to deal with when communication difficulties already exist. Furthermore, adjusting to change – such as the sudden need for hearing and vision aids- may be more difficult for those with ASD (Roberts 2002, 131).
In some cases however, the three characteristics mentioned above have been found to disappear with age. It is thought that with life experience and increased self- awareness, those with ASD notice “differentness” as they age, and begin to make conscious efforts to eliminate this differentness (Perkins, 487). Participation in normal and inclusive environments can also have this effect.
All of this considered, the importance of social support throughout the aging process for those with ASD might have an incredible impact on quality of life. Proper support must be given to aid with any hearing, vision and communication difficulties. Additionally, support in providing an inclusive environment, which encourages those with ASD to thrive, has been known to better future prospects and quality of life significantly (Roberts, 131).
Written by: Kimberly Thomson, Head of Research at Simone Friedman Speech-Language Services.
Perkins, Elizabeth A., Karen A. Berkman (2012). Into the Unknown: Aging with Autism
Spectrum Disorders. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,117(6), 478-496.
Roberts, Jacqueline (2002). Communication, Autism, and Aging. Advances in Speech-
Language Pathology, 4(2), 129-133.