Ask Reading Kingdom

Do children diagnosed with autism lead normal lives as adults?

As with so much in the field of autism, the answer to this important question is complicated. First, good data in this area are not readily available. Part of the difficulty is that the “explosion” in autism over the past few decades means that lots of individuals are only now just entering adulthood. In the past, the numbers were far smaller and there were not many studies of how well the people were functioning.

The situation is also complicated by the attention the media have been giving to individuals with autism who have unique and oftentimes amazing skills. For example, Tito a non-speaking individual fits the category of what would have been described as severely autistic. Under his mother’s tutelage, however, his writing abilities blossomed and he is able to write poetry and express highly complex language.

Achievements like these have led people to believe that autism can be viewed as equivalent to genius. Indeed, when I speak at meetings, one of the questions I am frequently asked is: Are all autistic people geniuses? (The brief answer to that is “No.” Genius is rare and no group is filled with them.)

But your question covers a broader topic than skill. You asked if the children can lead “normal lives” as adults. A normal life covers a vast array of behaviors that have little of the glamor of poetry writing (or in the case of Rainman, figuring out the ways to win in gambling casinos). Instead it involves behaviors that most of us take for granted—knowing how to use money, knowing how to dress, knowing how to use a public transportation system, knowing how to cook, and so on. Essentially it is knowing how to live independently.

As I noted above, the data in this realm are scanty. Of course there are some who do function well as adults and their stories are inspiring. Temple Grandin, for example. But based on what has been studied, it seems that a high percentage—even a majority– of individuals with autism do not lead “normal lives.” For example, even someone as linguistically skilled as Tito lacks the motor skills and the self-help skills that would allow independent living. And many individuals with autism do not speak or have minimal speech. The absence of that skill has major ramifications that place “normal” living out of reach.

Parents who are witnessing their children transitioning into adulthood are now focusing on what can and needs to be done to enable their offspring to live satisfying but supported lives. This is by no means an easy task. Decades ago, when farming was the norm, it was not too difficult to find a safe and appropriate role for individuals with autism. That is not the situation in a modern, urban, high tech world.

Supported living arrangements are needed for many, if not, most of the adults. The costs for setting up such arrangements are expensive and well beyond the means of most families. At the same time, we are in a period of government cutbacks with little likelihood of new support on the horizon. As the number of adults with autism increases, this problem is going to grow steadily greater. Hopefully a ray of sunshine will come into the picture—but for now, the situation is not a cheerful one.

For children with autism we recommend using our program ASD Reading. It’s specifically designed for children on the spectrum. Sign up today for a free 30 day trial.