Friday 26 August 2011

Aging in autism

Not so long ago I remember talking to a friend of mine about politics, the state of the country and a few other things as you do. Myself not being particularly political but nevertheless enjoying programmes like BBC Question Time, we happened to get on to the topic of Presidents and Prime Ministers and he came out with quite a memorable comment about wisdom and running countries. To quote: 'People who run countries should be at least 60 years old' he said. 'Only then does a person have both experience and wisdom'. Of course he is right. Indeed were his thoughts to be enshrined in various constitutional laws, I dare say we might all find ourselves in a slightly less chaotic world.

This point nicely brings me to a new paper recently published in the journal Gerontology by Francesca Happe (apologies for the lack of the acute accent on the final 'e') and Rebecca Charlton*. The paper is open-access and can be downloaded here and discusses the various research conducted on aging and autism.

I won't go into the paper point-by-point but there are some interesting findings and conclusions to be drawn from the collected works on aging in autism, some perhaps mirroring other conditions. What happens to symptoms (and comorbidities), how to ensure that services and support networks are properly positioned to meet the needs of older people with autism and probably most relevant to this blog, making sure that other conditions associated with aging are screened for and managed appropriately, to name but a few.

As the children of today move into adulthood, there is already growing interest in things like transition (school-college-big wide world), adult care and support for those who require it and the provision of suitable employment opportunities for people with autism. The Happe paper moves one step ahead of all that, to a time when people with autism are faced with the prospect that we all share, growing old, and the delights and challenges that brings.

I touched briefly on the issue of siblings and the role they will be asked to play for their brothers/sisters 'when mum and dad aren't around'. I know no-one likes to think about their own mortality; but nevertheless it is something everyone needs to plan for; parents, family, support organisations and State. Things like medicines management, mobility and access to services and quality of life are other themes that need to be considered.  With the quite astounding rise in the numbers of cases of autism witnessed worldwide over the past few years, we perhaps need to start investigating and planning now how to ensure our lifelong commitment to people with autism spectrum conditions fulfills its promises.

* Happe F. & Charlton RA. Aging in autism spectrum disorders: a mini-review. Gerontology. August 2011.

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