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Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adulthood

Tammi Reynolds, BA & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Autism spectrum disorder is a life-long, chronic disorder that can significantly impact affected people's social and cognitive development. As a result, adult functioning is frequently compromised. Some adults with ASD learn to function well in society. They can earn degrees and maintain gainful employment. Others never develop the communication and self-help skills necessary to live independently. The number of adults with autism spectrum disorder will rise significantly over the next several decades as the large group of diagnosed children age. Because of this, autism spectrum disorder in adulthood is an issue of increasing concern.

high school classroom When children with ASD reach the age of fourteen, their caregivers and teachers create a transition planning review in collaboration with the school district. The transition planning review covers issues like education and training as well as career planning. During this time, or sometimes earlier, many parents also give thought to preparing a plan for ensuring the welfare of their child with autism spectrum disorder if the child survives them.

Living arrangements and income are some of the major issues facing adults with autism spectrum disorder. While some can manage independently, others must be supervised around the clock to insure their safety. Even if an adult with ASD can maintain a job and can groom himself independently, he may not be able to deal with everyday situations requiring good social skills like meeting new people, asking appropriate questions or maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Fortunately, there are many employers who are willing to hire high-functioning employees with ASD. The ideal jobs for adults with autism spectrum disorder are usually quite structured in nature and make a virtue of their strengths and interests. Many high-functioning adults with ASD find gainful employment in computer-related fields, some like the repetition of assembly line work, and others prefer working with animals.

Living arrangements for adults with autism spectrum disorder differ from case to case. A low-functioning person with ASD with aggressive tendencies will usually need to be institutionalized. Fortunately, many can function quite well in group homes that provided assisted living support. Others live with family members throughout their lives.

Many adults with autism spectrum disorder go through adulthood still struggling with sensory issues and communication deficits that interfere with their ability to function normally. There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. was diagnosed with autism in 1950. Her symptoms were severe enough that her doctor suggested she be put in an institution. However, instead of being institutionalized, her caregivers provided her with a structured environment and play activities throughout her youth. Like many children with autism spectrum disorder, Temple did not speak until she was almost four years old. Also, like many children with ASD, she was fascinated by animals. Her interest in animals was profound enough to have guided her towards a career as a livestock researcher, consultant and teacher. She ultimately was able to become educated, to complete a doctorate, and to become a college professor. Presently, Dr. Grandin teaches courses on animal science at Colorado State University. She is the author of several books, some concerning autism and some about livestock.

Singer Gary Numan (famous for the ground-breaking post-disco hit "Cars" during the late 1970s), Vernon L. Smith, Ph.D. (Nobel laureate in Economics), and Bram Cohen (infamous inventor of BitTorrent file distribution software) are other fairly famous people who have managed to do well for themselves as adults with high functioning autism spectrum disorder.