Research highlights the challenges faced by people with autism in adulthood. It reveals a high rate of comorbidity between autism and ADHD, with up to 70% of people with autism also being diagnosed with ADHD. In addition, it highlights the importance of social competence in adults with autism, as high levels of social competence are directly correlated with positive adult outcomes, such as employment, independent living and maintaining relationships.
Also of note is the risk of psychiatric comorbidity in people with autism, including depression and anxiety. It is estimated that adults with autism have a prevalence rate of 27% for anxiety and 42% for depression. These comorbidities can have a significant impact on the transition to adulthood for people with autism, exacerbating the difficulties they already face. The characteristics of autism, such as sensory problems, difficulties adapting to social norms and problems with executive functioning, further compound the difficulties faced by adults with autism in various aspects of their lives.
The lack of research and services for adults with autism is seen as a significant problem. While considerable research has been conducted on autism in children and adolescents, formal research on autism in adults is lacking. This lack of research, coupled with a lack of services, exacerbates the social and emotional difficulties faced by adults with autism. The need for more research focused on understanding and supporting adults with autism in their transition to adulthood is highlighted.
Masking is another key theme, indeed, masking refers to the process by which people with autism suppress their natural way of thinking and behaving to conform to neurotypical social norms. Masking is described as inherently stressful for neuroatypical adults, as every social interaction is perceived as a performance where any misstep can result in ridicule or rejection. The adverse effects of masking on the mental health and well-being of people with autism, emphasizing the need to accept and support their authentic selves.
In addition, the challenges faced by autistic adults in terms of employment and housing. Many autistic adults rely on unpaid help from family or friends due to the lack of available services. The decline in services after graduation has a significant impact on where adults with autism can live and the type of jobs they can hold. It seems necessary to increase services and support for adults with autism to help them through these difficult transitions.
People with autism often internalize the belief that their natural way of thinking and behaving is unacceptable, leading them to constantly monitor themselves in the hope of appearing “normal”. This masking process is not only exhausting, but also contributes to an implicit shame of their true autistic personality. The resilience and resourcefulness of many autistic adults who continue to learn and develop strategies to cope with life’s major challenges.
Overall, the need for more research, services and support for adults with autism in their transition to adulthood must be emphasized. The challenges faced by adults with autism, from co-morbidities to social and emotional difficulties, require targeted interventions and resources. Greater awareness, acceptance and understanding of autism in adulthood are needed to ensure positive outcomes and quality of life for people with autism.
What I mean when I say I’m autistic: Unpuzzling a life on the autism spectrum, Kotowicz, A., Neurobeautiful, 2022
Unmasking autism: Discovering the new faces of neurodiversity, Price, D. Harmony, 2022
Neurotribes: The legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity, Silberman, S. Avery, 2016
Is this autism? A guide for clinicians and everyone else, Henderson, D., et al. Taylor & Francis, 2023
Understanding stigma in autism: A narrative review and theoretical model, Turnock, A., & al.
Applications of identity-based theories to understand the impact of stigma and camouflaging on mental health outcomes for autistic people, Rivera, R. A., & Bennetto, L. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 2023