Autism in later life – what is known and what is needed?

Published April 2020


Purpose of Review

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition characterised by differences in social interaction and communication across multiple contexts, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour or interests. As all adults age, they face an appreciable decline in health and functioning. For autistic adults, the challenges are twofold: they may face autism-specific effects of ageing as well as other non-specific, age-related effects experienced by the general population. This report summarises the available literature regarding older autistic adults over the age of 50, from 2010 to mid-2019.

Emerging evidence suggests that older autistic adults experience complex physical and mental health comorbidities. Studies that have included older adults report challenges such as underemployment, a lack of appropriate healthcare, and concerns for caring relationships as the adult ages. However, these studies have tended to be skewed towards younger and middle-aged adults.


Overall, there is a notable lack of studies that focus on older autistic adults and on ageing-relevant topics, with a particular absence of the autistic voice in the research. Resultantly, there remains a gap in our knowledge regarding the specific circumstances and needs of autistic adults in older age. In moving forward, it will be important to fill this gap with inclusive research to guide the most relevant and effective work that improves outcomes for this population.

Sonido, M., Arnold, S.R.C., Higgins, J. & Hwang, Y.I. (2020). Autism in later life – what is known and what is needed? Current Developmental Disorders Reports, Current Developmental Disorders Reports, 7, 69–77. doi: 10.1007/s40474-020-00192-z

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