Autism as You Age

When people think of autism they most often think of children. However, autistic children grow up to be autistic adults, and the majority of people diagnosed with autism are in fact in adulthood.

The number of adults with ASD aged over 65 will be 155,000 by 2035 in the UK alone1 – resulting in an increasing need for specialised support provision, to ensure the specific needs of the individual are met.

Research into autism has been focussed predominantly on children and; as the condition was only outlined in the 1940s and most diagnoses have come only more recently; the understanding of how autism interacts with the aging process is poorly understood.

Susan Dunne, who has autism and is the author of “A Pony in the Bedroom” describes her concerns around aging in a blog post, originally written for the Guardian Social Network. She describes her fear, facing a future where she may become more reliant on elderly support – in particular the unnerving prospect of the ever-changing faces of carers ‘popping in’, that would be difficult to manage with her anxiety and aversion to socialisation. Susan argues the provision for the elderly is not fit for purpose, particularly for those with additional needs. Many individuals may need adaptations not just for physical decline but to also meet their sensory and other complex needs. A standard care home with noises, smells and imposed structure, would be entirely inadequate.

When reviewing the impact of cognitive function in autistic adults, they were shown to not have the same pattern of decline as neurotypical adults 2. Perceived changes, therefore must not be presumed to be just the typical aging process at work. Support staff need education and training as well as acute awareness – to ensure, when required, they can seek help from the appropriate health professionals, as the individual may not be able to raise concerns themselves.

Many older people are increasingly reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation and for autistic adults who may have faced a lifetime of increased separation, this can only be felt more acutely. Older autistic adults have been found to have higher levels of depression and anxiety than the general population 3. However, the solution may require entirely different approaches to the neurotypical population – what works for one individual will not necessarily work for all, therefore a bespoke approach is required.

Resolving the provision for older autistic adults will require research and training for care and support workers as well as reviewing how this provision can be made in an appropriate environment. But whilst the challenges may be great, finding a solution is vital as the deadline is fast approaching.



1 – Redden, 2013

2 – Lever and Geurts, 2015

3 – Lever and Geurts, 2016

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