Autism prevalence and outcomes in older adults

John Elder Robison
Autism Research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research 2019, 12 (3): 370-374
Recent studies of mortality, illness, and suicide among autistic adults paint an alarming picture. Autistic people appear to die much earlier than the general population, and they seem to be far more vulnerable to a surprising range of medical problems. Suicide and depression seem far more common than in the general population. If correct, that suggests an older autistic population in silent crisis, with few if any supports. If so, older autistic people should be a focus for public health and human service agencies. But is the picture complete? Autism researchers ask for answers, identifying problems and their scope. This article discusses the limitations of our adult autism knowledge, and the challenges we will face studying adults. Researching and ultimately serving older autistic adults presents a unique set of problems that have not yet been addressed by scientists or clinicians. Autism Res 2019, 12: 370-374 © 2019 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. LAY SUMMARY: Public policy toward autistic people is driven by data. Most autism data to date have been derived from and about children, because autism tends to be identified and supported in the public school system. This has created a public perception of autism as a childhood problem. In fact, autism is a lifelong difference or disability, and recent studies suggest serious overlooked concerns for autistic adults. This commentary discusses how we have evaluated adult autism so far, limitations of our knowledge, and how we might evaluate adult needs going forward. The commentary makes a case for specific new adult prevalence and outcome studies to inform public policy.


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