When we think about autism, it is always little children that come to mind. This might have something to do with the well-publicized controversial medical article that linked autism to childhood vaccines. The paper has been discredited and retracted but the damage has been done and the association remains. Then there are the well-publicized court cases about children, the high profile advocacy groups campaigning for childhood autism, and the campaigns and activism of celebrities with autistic children.
Currents research on Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD focuses mainly on children with this disorder. According to a paper by Anita Neal Harrison of the University of Missouri:
“Scientists and healthcare professionals specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD, the now well-known range of developmental disabilities typically diagnosed in childhood, have logged thousands of hours in their quest to better understand the disorder’s causes, develop effective interventions and offer psychological support for autistic children and their parents.”
The current estimate of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that 1 in 110 American children have ASD. What we seldom think about is the fact that autistic children eventually grow up. And in comparison to children with autism, adults with autism attract less attention and advocacy, resulting in their needs going underserved.
In addition, research on adult autism is scarce and data published are based on a few individuals with exceptional abilities (high-functioning autism), giving an incomplete picture of ASD. The fact that it is considered a spectrum disorder means autism can manifest in a wide range of symptoms and disabilities that cannot be easily generalized.
The University of Missouri paper cites a 34-year old autistic adult who has 2 associated degrees in networking systems technology and in computer science. Yet he is considered not to have “the social capacity to work a regular, full-time job.”
In comparison to other people with disabilities, there is little material available for adults with ASD. According to MU researcher Scott Standifer, clinical associate professor in the MU School of Health Professions:
“The focus has been on children. Whereas when you think about people in wheelchairs, you think about adults, or when you think about folks with blindness or seizure disorders, there’s material out there about adults.”
It is for this reason than Prof Standifer wrote the groundbreaking guide Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals, an invaluable resource to help disability service providers serve adults with ASD better.