Autism Spectrum Disorders in Later Life
- Ye In (Jane) Hwang, Ye In (Jane) HwangDepartment of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, University of New South Wales
- Kitty-Rose Foley, Kitty-Rose FoleySouthern Cross University, School of Health and Human Sciences
- Samuel ArnoldSamuel ArnoldUNSW Australia, Cooperative Research Centre for Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Autism CRC)
- and Julian TrollorJulian TrollorDepartment of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, University of New South Wales
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is typically recognized and diagnosed in childhood. There is no established biological marker for autism; rather, the diagnosis is made based on observation of behavioral traits, including (a) persistent deficits in social interaction and communication, and (b) restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, autistic individuals are a highly heterogeneous group and differ widely in the presentation and severity of their symptoms. The established prevalence of ASD is approximately 1% of the population.
Information about autism in adulthood is limited; most of the literature examines childhood and adolescence. While the term “later life” has traditionally been associated with those over the age of 65, a dire lack of understanding exists for those on the autism spectrum beyond early adulthood.
Individuals remain on the spectrum into later life, though some mild improvements in symptoms are observed over time. Autistic adults experience high levels of physical and mental health comorbidities. Rates of participation in employment and education are also lower than that of the general population. Quality of life is reportedly poorer for autistic adults than for nonautistic peers, though this is not affected by age. More robust studies of the health, well-being, and needs of autistic adults are needed, especially qualitative investigations of adulthood and aging and longitudinal studies of development over the lifespan.