Sunday, October 13, 2013

Children With Autism Need to Be Taught Skills for Adult Life, Expert Says

In the past, autism was seen as a disorder of very young children. But children grow up, and far too little is known about autism in adults, said Fred Volkmar, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and director of the Yale Child Study Center, speaking Saturday at the APA Institute on Psychiatric Services in Philadelphia. Autism is a disorder characterized by considerable variability, he noted, "and it has a tremendous range within the person, across populations, and across time."

Preparing adolescents to transition to an adult world calls for more than using interventions originally tailored for children, Volkmar said. “Adaptive skills must be taught explicitly,” he said, recounting one patient who could do complex mathematics in his head but could not order a hamburger and count the change.

The educational transition takes work, too. College students are not covered by the same laws as elementary and high school students. If college students self-identify as having autism under the Americans with Disability Act, they can receive certain services and accommodations. But many don’t do that and may behave in ways that get them dismissed from school, Volkmar noted.

People with autism may also develop both physical and psychiatric problems as they age. They appear to have increased mortality from accidents. A sedentary lifestyle (and some medications) may increase risk of obesity. Anxiety and depression are increasingly prevalent as well. “Much more research focused specifically on this cohort is needed in order to provide the evidence base for their lifelong care,” Volkmar emphasized.

Watch a video interview with Fred Volkmar, M.D., here

Image: Marcin Pawlinski/


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