When Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is discussed, a major emphasis on childhood and early intervention is usually a part of this conversation. This is great news, as there is endless support and evidence for the need for early intervention for toddlers and young children with the diagnosis, as early intervention improves prognosis and outcomes. Yet as a part of the conversation, there is usually mention of ASD as a developmental disability – which means that it is a lifelong condition, impacting individuals at all ages across the lifespan.
Increasingly, there is a concern for adults with ASD who “fall off the service cliff.” Federal education law provides supports and services for individuals with disabilities throughout the school age (ages 3 through about 22), and Early Childhood Intervention captures services and supports before 3. So what happens to young adults and adults after age 22?
We do know that there is tremendous improvement in the quality of life, and the outcomes, for adults with ASD now, as compared to our history. Previously, those with developmental disabilities may have been institutionalized, may have been separated from family members or caregivers, or may have not been given the opportunities to enjoy their passions and strengths.
As an individual grows, learns, and progresses, there has likely been an emphasis in therapy goals for independent living skills. This makes things like living independently, or semi-independently, more of a reality. In our area of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, there are growing numbers of ASD-specific and developmental disabilities services for adults, including living communities, life skills training, and training centers where academic and work skills can be taught. For those that are college or career bound, colleges are offering accommodations and supports that can include mental health care, living skills, and study skills support.
Because there is such a wide range of functioning for individuals on the spectrum, there is also a wide range of prognosis. For those with high functioning autism, or those who may have been formerly identified as Asperger’s Syndrome, the prognosis may not be any different than any other adolescent or young adult. However, the experience of being on the spectrum comes with social challenges and a need for social support, and having group therapy experiences tends to lead to better social outcomes for those on the spectrum.
Autism is a lifelong condition, and there are lifelong needs for social, communication, and behavioral support. Not everyone with the diagnosis needs the same sorts of supports, but for those who rely on the supports, they are necessary, and can cause significant disruption when they are removed. Fortunately, much progress has been made, and much progress still will be made. In the meantime, if you or a family member needs support across the lifespan, contact us. We can help!