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How do autistic people experience ageing?

by | Feb 19, 2024 | Uncategorised | 0 comments

Our recent interview-based study revealed important insights into the ways that middle to older-aged autistic adults experience ageing. Seventeen autistic adults (ten women and seven men), who were aged from 46 to 72 years, took part in the study. A key finding was that current age-related services were generally not considered suitable for autistic adults, and that they require adaptations to improve their accessibility.

The participants in our study described a number of ways that their autistic characteristics interacted with other age-related conditions and experiences, such as the menopause. They also felt they were more likely than their non-autistic peers to experience age related diseases, such as Dementia and Parkinson’s, although lacked clear knowledge about this risk. Some participants described how they didn’t have access to older autistic role models, who could help them to understand their own age-related experiences. Participants also felt that some of their autistic characteristics made it difficult to engage in healthy behaviours, such as exercising regularly and eating well.

Participants also felt that some of their autistic characteristics and experiences were changing with age. For instance, some participants felt that they were becoming more sensitive to sensory input. Others experienced changes in their ability to mask their autistic characteristics, with some feeling more skilled at this with age, and others feeling a reduction in the energy needed to do this.  Several participants also reported concerns about how they would cope if key family members, such as parents, died, and left them without support. They also worried about not being able to cope with new caring roles themselves, and felt at increased risk of becoming socially isolated, as they got older.

These findings are important as they reveal that autistic people have specific age-related strengths and needs and show that current ageing support is not tailored to the needs of autistic adults. This research emphasises ideas for change to ensure autistic adults can access appropriate ageing support to hopefully achieve improved outcomes in later life. By adapting ageing support for autistic people, people are better able to reach their potential and live better lives.

This research was completed as part of a clinical doctorate thesis project at the University of Manchester. A pre-print version of the findings.

The researchers were Dr Rebecca Aitken, Dr Emma Gowen, Dr Laura Brown and Professor Katherine Berry. For more information please contact: