Helping Adults with Autism Thrive

The most recent statistics show one in every 68 babies has autism. The U.S. spends 11 and a half billion dollars a year on education and treatment for kids with the disorder. But what happens when those kids grow into adults? We take a look into one program that's focusing on adults with autism.

Braden Gertz is an early childhood education assistant and a swimming instructor. The 24-year-old is also living with autism.

"It's hard living on your own because you don't know what to do for yourself" Gertz told Ivanhoe.

But Braden has made it work. Christopher Hanks, MD, Pediatric and Internal Medicine Specialist at The Ohio State University, says only about 10 to 15-percent of adults with autism are able to live independently like Braden.

Dr. Hanks told Ivanhoe, "There's really a small percentage that are thriving in the community, and the rest struggle."

By 2030 the number of adults living with autism is expected to increase by nearly 700-percent. But many adults with the disorder have nowhere to turn when it comes to medical care.

"As children, they had great care, but as they become adults, there's just no one specifically trained to care for them" Dr. Hanks explained.

Adults with autism are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, seizures, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes, but they are less likely to receive routine checkups and screenings. That's why Dr. Hanks and colleagues at Ohio State run one of the few clinics in the country to provide care for adults with autism. They offer medical services, counseling, and education.

It's helped Jahred Perry. The 18-year-old has autism and will be moving away from home to attend college soon.

Jahred told Ivanhoe, "I'm excited about exploring and taking new classes and meeting new people."

His dad James says he might face challenges but he thinks his son will do just fine.

"I'm so proud of him. He's very mature" James exclaimed.

The program at Ohio State offers patients referrals for diagnostic testing, counseling services, therapy, dental care, nutrition education, and more. Many patients with autism struggle with social interaction so the staff and doctors often communicate with them via technology to make them feel more comfortable.


Sherri Kirk

Helping Adults with Autism Thrive -- Research Summary

BACKGROUND: Autism is a general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development, emerging between 2 and 3 years of age. Studies show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. When adults have autism, it can create difficult challenges for everyone involved. Dealing with the condition often involves crucial decisions about living arrangements, employment opportunities and support services. Parents of adults with the disorder need to search for the best programs and facilities available to them, starting with their local Social Security Administration office.


SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Social interactions and relationships including:

- Problems developing nonverbal communication skills, such as eye-to-eye gazing, facial expressions and body posture
- Failure to establish friendships with children same age
- Lack of interest in sharing enjoyment, interests or achievements with others
- Lack of empathy

Verbal and nonverbal communication:

- Delay in, or lack of, learning to talk
- Problems taking steps to start a conversation
- Stereotyped and repetitive use of language
- Difficulty understanding their listener's perspective

The severity of symptoms varies greatly. Some adults with autism are able to work and live on their own. The degree to which an adult with autism can lead an independent life is related to intelligence and ability to communicate. At least 33% are able to achieve at least partial independence.


ADULTS WITH AUTISM: Ohio State University's, Wexner Medical Center, has opened one of the only clinics in the country to care for adults with ASD. The Center for Autism Services and Transition (CAST) provides care coordination, along with primary and specialty care services for patients. They offer access to diagnostic testing, counseling services, therapy, dental care, nutrition and other resources. The goal is to give new hope to these patients, and to connect them with medical experts who truly understand their needs so they can continue to grow and succeed. Beyond offering medical care, they provide options for continuing education courses and job opportunities to help patients transition into their new lifestyle. They focus on helping people develop the skills they need to thrive in the broader community.