Becoming an Adult With Autism

Autism may lead to difficulties with daily life skills in adulthood

(RxWiki News) Many interventions for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) focus on childhood skills, but as people with ASD move into adulthood, they may continue to need help.

New research sought to find out how children with ASD transition into an adult lifestyle by looking at daily life skills, like household chores and personal hygiene.

They found that children with ASD show improvement in life skills, but that as they age into their late twenties and thirties some of their skills may decline. Living skills of young adults with ASD may need attention.

"Ask your psychiatrist about autism services."

A study led by LeAnn Smith, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, tracked 397 people with ASD and 167 people with Down’s Syndrome over 10 years.  All children enrolled were over the age of 10 at the start of the study.

They interviewed parents about the daily life skills at the start of the study. Parents were interviewed again 5 years later, 8 years later and 10 years after the start of the study.

Mothers were asked to complete the Waisman Activities of Daily Living Scale. This questionnaire asks parents to score specific skills with a zero if the child cannot do the task at all, with a one if the child can do the task with help or with a two if the child can do the task independently.  

From the mother’s ratings on the Waisman, a total daily living skills score was made by adding up all scores on that questionnaire. Daily living skills that were part of the questionnaire were various household chores, errands, laundry, personal hygiene, personal finances and preparing meals.

The researchers found that people with ASD showed improvement in daily living skills scores through their teens and early twenties. Then, scores leveled off in the late twenties and began to decline as they aged into their thirties. 

In contrast, children with Down's Syndrome showed a slow and steady improvement in daily living skills scores throughout the time period studied.

The researchers conclude that ASD presents unique challenges from other developmental disorders.  They recommend that specific interventions be created to help improve daily living skills as children with ASD grow into adults.

dailyRx spoke with Glen Elliot, MD, PhD, a clinical psychiatrist about the results of this study. He said,  "Change is often driven by social pressure, and ASD individuals usually have less social pressure as they age into their 20's--they don't seek it out, and others begin to withdraw.”

Young adults with ASD may need some extra attention as they move into adulthood in order to maintain their living skills.

This study was limited by the fact that they did not look at which skills, specifically, were declining in the young adults in the study. More research is needed to help parents and doctors improve life skills in young adults with ASD.

This research report was published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health; the authors report no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 7, 2012