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Older adults and autism

Here's an interesting note about autism in older adults in a study by British researchers. The Star's series turns its attention to older teens and adults starting Saturday and continuing until Monday.

The study, reported in the journal Geriatric Medicine,http://www.gerimed.co.uk/_documents/resources/1104.230.pdf suggests that brain maturation and adaptation continues well into adulthood, with a reduction in the level of disability for some.

"It is also suggested that some do in fact, 'grow out of' autism, in that they no longer meet diagnositic criteria for diagnosis. If this is so, and whether it is due to changes in the brain itself or the individual's successful adaptation to social and environmental conditions, are matters for conjecture.

"At present we do not know."

A 2009 study from the University of Utah showed improvement in communication skills and IQ and a reduction in repetitive behaviors and rigid interests in nearly 30 per cent of those studied.  Another review of adult functions, published in the Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, reported that the worst outcomes in adults with autism were for those who also had an intellectual disability.

It's also distressing to read in the short, highly readable paper from the UK about the abandonment of many people with autism as they age. Studies from the 1980s and 1990s "revealed a desperate picture of social isolation, high unemployment and mental ill health among the more able population."

The paper concludes with questions. We've found in writing about this age group there are questions in abundance, but scant research and few answers.

 "Could this be a double whammy for people with autism? Already socially isolated and disadvantaged by their condition and responses to it, will they face additional problems from a system more attuned to the needs of the majority?"


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  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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