Adult Autism: The Education of Older Adults With Autism

A quick Google search about special education would most probably lead to hits leading to diagnosis, early intervention, and instruction of children with special learning needs.  Some resources could also include study tips and memory techniques for special needs children up to the high school level. But though the needs of these children should certainly be given prime importance, there is another segment of the population that requires much attention. We are referring to older adults with special needs, specifically those who have pervasive developmental disorders under the autism spectrum.

Autism for Older Adults

A document called the Rights of Ageing People with Autism by Autism Europe has a very clear stand about older people with autism, espousing the need for a more clearly-defined healthcare approach for this population. From the document it was pointed out that older adults with autism have a double vulnerability, a term used to denote that the problems they face are twice difficult than that of the average person. Not only do the persistent problems of old age become a matter of concern, the situation becomes more difficult because of the autistic disorder.

From the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), Autism is characterized by symptoms of qualitative impairment in social interaction, communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotypes patterns of behavior. This means that people diagnosed with autism are unable to adapt to the normal circumstances of daily living, mostly relying on their primary caregivers or relatives to live in the mainstream. Going back to the “double vulnerability” description, we could clearly see why this is so; aside from the debilitating effects of old age, older adults with autism also need to address the challenges brought about by their impairment.

Specific Challenges of Older Adults with Autism

From the same document, there are specific problems that need to be addressed:

  • Healthcare problems definitive of old age and of autism
  • Communication and social problems that people with autism are saddled with
  • Behavioral problems that leads to isolation
  • Complex residential and daily living problems
  • Lack of professionals who specialize in older people with autism

This was not meant to be an exhaustive list, and most probably points out only the immediate challenges that older people with autism face. For example, what would be the best way to help an older person with autism given who didn’t undergo early intervention or a systematic education? A percentage of the population would certainly fit the description, and it defines a complex problem that need to be attended at once. Also solutions to the challenges in the management of financial resources for this endeavor should also be at the forefront, because as it is, it’s very hard to shift one’s resources given a troubled economy.

What should be done for older people with autism?

Though older adults with autism may present difficulties that cannot be instantly prioritized, it’s easier than expected. Community-based learning programs which rely on situated learning (i.e. learning that occurs through socialization and within a guided context) can be started at once to cater to the needs of present adults with autism. These programs can be made to be self-sufficient by training them in skilled trades that could be capitalized on. With this approach, both the challenges in the quality of life and the problems of sustainability can be solved.

As it is, the paths leading to solutions are many, but what we really need to develop is a defining principle for helping older people with special needs in general. Given the complex problems that such a condition implies, the education of older adults with autism should be given much more importance. This could be done by championing initiatives for approaching the problem at hand, and by training more professionals who could expertly deal with the concerns of older people with special needs. Research in the field should be amply rewarded for its values lies in the discovering solutions that could be generalized to problems of healthcare, poverty, and community development for everyone.

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