Although we most often hear about autism in children, it is important to emphasize that autism does not affect just kids. Autism is a lifelong condition which does not go away in adulthood. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. But very often, as they grow up, they struggle to fit into society, find work and live on their own.
Adults with autism face major hardships in their lives, especially in the absence of supports and services. These challenges have significant implications not only for the individuals themselves but also for their families and society at large. The following are a few examples.
- High unemployment – It is estimated that over 80 percent of Canadians with autism are unemployed. Moreover, research shows that young adults on the spectrum are more likely to be unemployed than their peers with other disabilities.
- Social isolation – Facing a lack of understanding from the society, people living with autism and their families often become isolated and develop mental health problems.
- Low life expectancy and high suicide rates – For people with autism in Sweden for example, life expectancy is a mere 40 years, and suicide rates are elevated. Research in the US shows that 66 percent of adults newly diagnosed with Asperger syndrome report to having contemplated suicide.
- High dependence on families – Most often parents are the primary caretaker, educator, and financial supporter of their children with autism. But what is going to happen to these individuals once their parents are no longer able to care for them?
- Unfulfilled potential – Given their unique capabilities in sciences and arts, people with autism can provide unique contributions in a number of areas. When left untapped, this unfulfilled potential represents a huge loss to the society.
These challenges and unmet needs are real and deserve the recognition and attention of everyone. How can we work together to help adults with autism have the best possible quality of life? It is critical to ensure that children with autism can successfully transition into adulthood, find a job, get involved in the community, find a place to live, and continue education.