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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

Autism in Seniors: Why We Must Understand the Unique Challenges and Take Action

Table of Contents









Introduction


Autism is not just a childhood thing. We should understand autism in seniors, as well. However, we may often overlook how autism can affect older adults because there isn't much research available in this area.


What kind of challenges take place? Is it easy for older adults to get an autism diagnosis? What about the types of support we can give them? Read on for more details.


Challenges with Autism in Seniors


I had a person reach out to me regarding RetireGuide's content and the importance of understanding older autistic adults. As I looked through the content, it struck me as something I needed to share with my regular viewers because of the unique challenges.


According to RetireGuide, some challenges autistic seniors may face include financial hurdles, an even bigger risk for health problems compared to neurotypical adults, and profound social isolation.


Acknowledging many people on the spectrum, including myself, already have issues in these areas during our younger years, it's troubling to know what the future may be like unless people become proactive to prevent the issues listed below for future generations.


Financial Hurdles


RetireGuide mentions that financial difficulties may include, but are not necessarily limited to:


  • Difficulty transitioning to retirement because of money-saving struggles

  • Sometimes, spending a lot of money on hobbies and luxuries and not as much on critical things to pay for, such as housing

  • Paying specialized care expenses

With the employment struggles often evident in autism, it's no surprise that saving money and staying above the poverty line can be challenging for autistics, even once they approach retirement.


Health Issues


According to a 2020 study, people on the spectrum over 65 may be especially likely to get the following (not limited to):

​Mental Conditions

Physical Conditions

ADHD

Cancer

Dementia

Epilepsy

Personality Disorders

Heart disease

Psychosis

Osteoporosis

Schizophrenia

Parkinson's

The same study indicates that autistic seniors are 19 times more likely to have epilepsy, six times more likely to develop Parkinson's Disease and 11 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or self-injury behaviours. Not okay.


This is, indeed, something we as a society need to take seriously if we want to lengthen the lifespans of autistic people.


For instance, according to Spectrum News, as many autistic people mask growing up to prevent neurotypical peers from mistreating them, this masking may stress their body over time, which may lead to heart problems.


This is partially why I don't overdo trying to act normal (even though I do respect neurotypicals to my best ability), not only to be authentic but to prevent health issues that may arise if I take extreme steps out of my comfort zone or try too hard to impress others.


Social Isolation


RetireGuide addresses that social isolation can be particularly intense in senior years for some. Many senior autistic people may not have people much older than them to connect with anymore. They may also have few to no people to talk to on a regular basis, which may increase anxiety and depression odds.


If you factor the above with the social struggles autistic seniors may have prior to retirement, it's easy to see how losing social connections can especially hit them hard. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 per cent of autistic adults do not spend much time with friends.


Late Diagnosis Obstacles


In addition, RetireGuide says possible reasons why older adults may have a harder time getting an autism diagnosis if they are not already diagnosed include women not getting diagnosed as often as men due to symptoms often not being as apparent, doctors being reluctant to diagnose autism in people past a certain age, and a lack of research still evident (that will hopefully, improve).


Spectrum News mentions meeting criteria such as having symptoms present in early childhood may be challenging because autism tests mostly target children, and that older autistic adults may no longer have their parents around to give insights.


Hopefully, things will change enough in the next few decades (or, more ideally, not too far ahead) that autistic people of all ages will get the proper diagnoses, accessibility and support they may need to cope with a world that can be daunting to deal with.


How Do We Make Positive Changes?


In conclusion, we must improve our understanding of autism in seniors to improve accessibility, prevent financial issues, make health issues decrease and give autistic people a sense of social belonging at all points of their lives. If we're less judgmental toward autistic people, this can decrease problems later in life more than you may realize.


People on the spectrum need a steady income to eventually retire and prevent poverty and homelessness, less stress due to masking and not fitting in to avoid physical or mental health conditions from developing, improved social connections to stay happy, and the easy ability to receive an autism diagnosis at any time to get the supports they need.


When you consider that the last paragraph is about things often critical for neurotypical seniors, putting old age and autism together can make these obstacles unbearable if we don't take action soon enough.


We want current and future generations to be happy and healthy for people of all types and ages.


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