Seniors with ASD

What information is available on how to support seniors with ASD?

Currently, not much information is available on how to support seniors with ASD. However, we know that age and severity of autism are tightly linked, where the severity of autism tends to grow with age across such situations as social communication, coping with change or generating new ideas or solutions (Charlton, 2016). But here are some resources:

Medical Concerns in Adulthood

What predisposition to disorders do individuals with ASD have?:

Adults with ASD may face an increased risk for immune disorders (e.g., allergies or asthma); metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes); heart disease; and motor disorders (e.g., cerebral palsy) (Croen et al., 2015). Here is more information:

  • Immunology: Presence of an autoimmune disorder in early childhood may increase the risk of development ASD in later life, as well as strongly correlated with the severity of communication challenges
  • Asthma: 1.6 times more likely
  • Frequent and/or severe headaches: 1.8 times more likely
  • Chronic sleep problems: Over 50% of individuals with ASD have one or more sleep issues
  • Chronic gastrointestinal disorders: 8 times more likely, including chronic constipation or diarrhea. Additionally, individuals with ASD have higher food selectivity
  • Epilepsy: Approximately one-third of people with ASD have a seizure disorder.
  • Incontinence: Children with ASD may have nocturnal enuresis and daytime urinary incontinence more frequently than their peers.
  • Obesity: People with ASD are 1.4 times more likely to be obese and about 3 times more likely to have constipation. These problems could be related to picky eating and/or a common side effect of drugs often prescribed to individuals with ASD.

 

Inclusion and feeling part of society really does impact on health status. It’s very important to include adults with autism in all sections of society.” 
~ Lisa Croen

What barriers to healthcare can individuals with ASD face?

Many young adults with ASD do not receive any healthcare for years after they stop seeing a pediatrician. Indeed, primary health care providers often admit to being unprepared to work with individuals with ASD.

Within a survey of nearly 1,000 primary care physicians and other healthcare professionals,  a majority of respondents reported having never received the training needed to care for adults with ASD. Healthcare professionals also greatly underestimate the number of adults with ASD in their practices. For example, one doctor commented that it does not concern him how to treat people with autism as he is not a pediatrician.

Resources:

 

 

Mental Health and Other Health Issues

What mental health problems may individuals with ASD face?

95% of children with ASD have co-occurring medical and behavioral conditions. One in three individuals with ASD has another psychiatric condition, e.g., anxiety or bipolar disorder.

The odds of suicide are almost four times higher among teenagers and adults with ASD than other groups.

Co-occurring conditions often contribute to more frequent visits to physicians for preventive, non-emergency and emergency care in comparison to individuals without ASD. Such medical conditions also bring with them social restrictions (e.g., restricted food venues, reduced participation in sports and other activities, decreased travel, etc.). In turn, this can lead to other medical disorders, like obesity, cardiac complications, diabetes, etc.

Learn More:
Medical Health
Mental Health

Law Enforcement and First-Responder Considerations

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How to Inform Police and/or First Responders that an Individual Has Autism Spectrum Disorder?

There is a strong chance that individuals with ASD may encounter police in their lives. Statistics shows that:

  • Individuals with ASD are 7 times more likely to intersect with the criminal justice system, either as victims or offenders (Berryessa, 2014).
  • 19.5% of youth with ASD have been stopped and questioned by police by the time they reached their early 20s. Of them, nearly 5% were subsequently arrested (Rava, Shattuck, Rast, & Roux, 2017).
  • Yet, the prevalence of actual unlawful behavior of individuals with ASD is relatively low (Woodbury-Smith & Dein, 2014).
  • Socio-emotional challenges present in ASD do not allow individuals to have an intent to purposefully harm another person (Berryessa, 2014; Freckelton, 2013; Woodbury-Smith & Dein, 2014).
  • Presence of co-morbid psychiatric disorders can be a strong underlying reason for offensive behaviors.
  • 20% of children with autism have been physically or sexually abused. However, justice personnel is not sufficiently ready to interact and advocate for these victims (Mandell et al., 2005)

Individuals with ASD have higher risks of victimization due to the nature of autism and the social environment, namely:

  • Reduced privacy
  • Lack of experience with decision-making
  • Lack of education about sexuality
  • Reduced expectations
  • Rewards for rule-following
  • Limited socialization
  • Negative attitude of others towards disability (Autism Speaks, n.d.)

Call 911 in case of emergency!

Visit CRISIS page for more information on the hotlines to report abuse.

Steps that you can take:

  1. Build awareness in the community and among police and first responders that an individual has ASD and therefore may not respond in an expected way.
  2. If possible, contact your community’s 911 office to let them know that there is an individual with ASD living in this community.
  3. Teach individuals about inappropriate touching and how to avoid it in public.
  4. Police are often being called at school for behavioral issues of older individuals with ASD. Be sure to address the issue in the child’s IEP as a protection. Also, help educate school resource officers on what to do (see example tag from HANDS in Autism® below.)
  5. HANDS in Autism® developed a number of resources to help inform the police and first responders (see examples below). Go to HANDSinAutism.IUPUI.edu for more information.

This Individual has Autism
Card to share with community members or during outbursts in public places:

I Have Autism Spectrum Disorder card for first responders
Wallet card to present to police or first responders:

Strategies that work
Strategies that Work

Alert Magnet for first responders with information about individuals that live in the house
Include this magnet in your home to help first responders

People with ASD may: Card
Here is an example of a card with ideas of what a security officer might expect.

Additional Resources

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Sexual Health Class Research Survey

Individuals with ASD rarely get sufficient and/or reliable information about healthy sexual behaviors from traditional sources, like at school or from parents/caregivers, which often results in an increased risk of becoming victims of sexual crimes or perceived offenders (Brown-Lavoie, Viecili, and Weiss, 2014). Reviews and research related to the sexual health curriculums used within schools or educational settings for individuals with ASD is sparse with some indication of the absence of any existing or adapted curriculum in regular use. Removal of these students from sexual health classes means they are left to obtain information from unmonitored sources.

This brief survey is designed to gain insight from a variety of stakeholders (i.e., family members/caregivers, teachers, school admin, or individuals with a disability) regarding sexual health knowledge and the programs provided within an educational setting for students with disabilities.

As a thank you for your participation, you will receive a PDF info sheet with practical strategies for providing resources and skills teaching materials related to sexual health as a step towards preventing sexual abuse or victimization of individuals with disabilities. Please consider sharing this survey with friends and colleagues alike.

Please contact Naomi Swiezy, Ph.D., HSPP, Director, HANDS in Autism® Interdisciplinary Training and Resource Center at nswiezy@iupui.edu or Tiffany Neal, Ph.D., Assistant Director, HANDS in Autism® Interdisciplinary Training and Resource Center at nealtiff@iupui.edu with any questions, concerns, or additional comments.