New Study Indicates Autism is Dreadfully Under-diagnosed in Seniors

By April 2, 2014Healthy Aging

When you think of autism, do you automatically think of young school children? That seems to be the consensus around the world, but, according to one study conducted in England, seniors are actually under-diagnosed when it comes to autism.

Seniors with autism are not receiving the care and help they truly need because the disease is only seen as a “young person’s disease.” This is what the research indicates, according to the National Autistic Society. In fact, less than half of the medical community in England even has a diagnostic pathway established for treating adults with autism.

The group conducted interviews, focus groups and surveys with older autistic adults and their family members. What they found was a group of seniors who had nowhere to turn for help with their disease and families who were left to figure things out for themselves. There’s little to no research available when it comes to older adults and autism, as it’s always been viewed a disorder that afflicts middle-school children.

The lack of knowledge doesn’t stop there; clinicians in England that work with older adults don’t even really understand the disease and how it affects their patients. For example, most medical professionals don’t have a clue as to how common health issues like dementia might affect adults with autism. In fact, medical professionals who specialize in senior care “often have a poor understanding of the disability” as a whole.

According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), things need to change and change quickly. Their first order is to make sure that funding is available for research into autism and aging.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: “Huge strides have been taken in changing attitudes towards autism. But there is still a tendency to think of autism as a condition that just affects children, when there are older people with autism in all our communities who need our support and care.

“Too many older adults with autism are missing out on diagnosis entirely and too many are still waiting for their needs to be assessed.  And all too often, it’s unclear what support will be available for them as they get older. This must change.”

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