Oct 10, 2016, TheConversation.com (Boston, MA): What happens when people with autism grow old?
By Ann Charlton
If you mention autism to most people they will think about children, but it is a lifelong diagnosis. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. Little is known about how the symptoms change with age. This is because autism is a relatively new disorder, first described in 1943 and not regularly identified until the 1970s. It is only now that those people first diagnosed are reaching older age that we can start to learn whether the disorder changes over a lifetime.
There have been some suggestions that symptoms may reduce as people get older. These reports, describing fewer difficulties with older age, are often from people with autism themselves and from their families. But how much evidence is there for this? Our latest research provides some answers, and also raises some new questions.
Working with the Autism Diagnostic Research Centre in Southampton we assessed 146 adults who were referred to the centre seeking a diagnosis of autism between 2008 and 2015, and who consented to take part in the research. People were aged between 18 and 74-years-old. A hundred of these adults were diagnosed with autism, and 46 people did not receive a diagnosis. This gave us an opportunity to explore the subtle differences between people who receive a diagnosis and those who don’t, even though they may have some other similar difficulties.
Our analysis showed that age and severity of autism were linked; that is, as age increased so did the severity of autism symptoms in social situations, communication and flexible thinking (such as coping with change or generating new ideas or solutions). We also found that older people with autism were more likely than younger people to extract rules from situations or prefer structure (for example, wanting to know how committees are organised or always following the same routine during a task). ...
Older adults with autism performed better on cognitive tests than younger adults. ...
It isn’t yet clear whether people with autism age in the same way as people without autism – it’s still early days, given the relative age of the disorder. Ageing may also be different for each person with autism. People with autism may have developed strategies to help them age better, or may be at risk for depression and cognitive decline. In future work, we aim to see people every few years so we can understand how they change over time.
Autism folklore: Autism has always been here, but we've only been able to find it in young people.
Here Ann Charlton writes a confusing piece. Autism is "a relatively new disorder," people may outgrow it, but research has shown that "age and severity of autism are linked."
All her guesses are based on studying 146 adults with autism between 18 and 74 years of age from Southampton in the UK.
146 adults? Why such a small study group?
How severe were they? What was the age span? Were most of the "adults" in their twenties?
This is fiction. The reason people keeps asking this troubling question is because there simply isn't a comparable autistic population among older adults. Pretending that they're out there somewhere, and that we just haven't looked for them, is fostering a lie. We are still having to train teachers, EMTs, fire fighters, police and just about everyone dealing with the public about autism because it's a relatively new phenomenon.
I have asked over and over for SOMEONE to show us the 40, 60, and 80 year olds displaying the same signs of autism we see in our kids. And I'm talking about full-blown autism...adults who regressed (in other words, they started out as normally developing children and lost learned skills), hand-flapping, echolalia or no speech, meltdowns, OCD, wandering. I want to see the ASD adults with all the concomitant health problems plaguing our kids: seizures, bowel problems etc.
Let's ask the real question: WHY CAN'T WE FIND OLDER ADULTS WITH AUTISM? (Why aren't doctors doing "better diagnosing" among their middle aged and elderly patients?)