Adult autism is a spectrum disorder that does not make the headlines nearly as often as childhood autism. It is a condition that can persist throughout someone’s life, and there are many ways people manage and live with autism spectrum disorders.
The transition to adulthood can be challenging for individuals with autism. Whether the young adult struggling with autism was the valedictorian or someone who left high school without a diploma, they need to enter a program that gives them the community and resources to support the transition. Those who attend college have to adjust to dorms, challenging social situations, tough class schedules and independence. For someone who has difficulty with everyday tasks, this is quite the undertaking.
With a flood of children from the recent “autism epidemic” transitioning to adult life, public services are scarce and it is important that people with autism receive support from their communities. Family and friends should try to do what they can to make sure the adult is able to meet their needs adequately while they try to get settled in life and develop the abilities it takes to fully care for themselves.
The bright side is that most people with ASD see improvement in all major areas of difficulty during their late teens and into adulthood. Things like difficulties with nonverbal and verbal communication, social reciprocity and problems with repetitive behaviors decrease year to year in the majority of cases. However, in some adults, they can actually worsen.
Some studies have been able to shed insight into reasons why this happens. A 2005 UCLA study took 48 individuals diagnosed with autism and showed that while most of them still had autism, a majority showed improvement in maladaptive behaviors into adulthood. The study determined that participants that were higher functioning (IQ > 70) generally experienced more improvement than those who were lower functioning. In the second group, early childhood cognitive and language-based interventions could lead to more positive changes.
There are several interventions that appear to have been helpful. Fostering social interaction between school children with autism and their peers helps develop adaptive skills. Social engagement helps even the children with IQs of less than 70 develop better. Continuing support with speech impediments seems necessary, and abnormal response to sensory stimuli seems to continue for about 93 percent of adults.
In the hopes of better understanding how autism affects adolescents and adults, future studies will focus on trying to understand the disorder and its development more clearly. Longitudinal studies may examine change in autism in relationship to environmental contexts. This can hopefully determine factors that improve the quality of life for individuals with ASD.
Early interventions seem to set people up for improvements. According to research, these start off as intellectual improvements and later in life develop into behavioral improvements for people dealing with autism. Being able to rely on themselves for daily tasks is quite an accomplishment for people who have had autism since childhood and have been under the care and supervision of others. Once they are established as independent, the severity of their issues diminish with time.
It can be hopeful for parents of autistic children to know this. Focusing on engaging them socially and intellectually can lead to a healthier adult life, no matter how hard it seems to picture that in their childhood. Childhood is actually the time that maladaptive behaviors are most likely at their worst.
Foden, Teresa J. “Adults with ASD: The Spectrum.” Interactive Autism Network. A Partnership of Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Simons Foundation, 28 Oct. 2008. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
Sarris, Marina. “A Place Of Their Own: Residential Services For Soon-To-Be Adults With Autism.” Interactive Autism Network. A Partnership of Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Simons Foundation, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.