As the world celebrated World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, the conversation around elderly with autism remained sidelined. Blog posts and comment boards were focused on children with autism, a standard practice that is common in other areas. For instance, a quick scan of entries in PUBMED, the National Library of Medicine database, shows that there is almost no literature on elderly with autism. It is pertinent that the experiences of older adults with autism are investigated and documented for available data. Older adults were once children and while some autism symptoms seem to decrease with increasing age, elderly with autism will not reach normal levels of social functioning.
There is now evidence of increased prevalence of and knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) internationally. In Venezuela, the rate of autism is estimated at 1.1 per 1000 people, while the rate of autism spectrum disorder is estimated at 1.7 per 1000 people. Additionally, 1.5 million people have ASD in Brazil. Despite reports about underestimation of statistics, training in autism diagnosis and early detection should be promoted. Also, it is important to note that children will age even though most statistics focus on children.
Since autism goes undetected, health professionals should work to ensure that resources and services are available for elderly with autism. These include screening and diagnostic tools that are appropriate for older adults. Moreover, the Brazilian Public Health System suggests that autism research is necessary for treatment and intervention strategies to become more widespread. Autism is a life-long condition and while there are still unknowns about aging with autism, nations like Brazil and Venezuela can prepare for the future.
Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Global Health Aging.