Facts You Didn’t Know About Autism in Adults

Adults with autism spectrum disorder face an overwhelming number of challenges as they enter the real world. Up until they graduate high school, they have a seemingly unlimited support system. Teachers, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and family members band together to meet the various needs of a student with ASD. Once high school ends, though, most of that support does, too.

Here are a handful of challenges these adults face throughout their lives.

1. It’s difficult for adults to receive a proper diagnosis

Adults with autism are often misdiagnosed.

Doctors used to think autism only affected children. | iStock.com/vadimguzhva

Children with ASD are much more likely to receive a proper diagnosis and early intervention now than in previous decades, but some adults aren’t so lucky. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ASD symptoms in adults often overlap with unrelated mental health disorders, such as ADHD. As a result, they might receive a mental health diagnosis with medications or therapies that don’t cater to all their needs. Research on autism treatment in adults is also far less inclusive than interventions for children, which is a probable factor for misdiagnosis, or no diagnosis at all.

Next: Many teenagers with ASD graduate high school lacking essential skills.

2. Daily living skills are essential, but many don’t learn them in time

People with autism often lack the skills to survive on their own.

Daily living skills usually aren’t taught in schools. | iStock.com/shironosov

Many high school-aged teens aren’t taught to function without their parents, which is especially a problem for those with ASD. According to a study published in the journal Autism, many adolescents on the autism spectrum don’t possess the daily living skills necessary to survive on their own after high school. This could be why many autistic adults are never able to live independently from their parents. Failing to learn these skills as part of a transition plan before exiting high school makes attaining higher education, employment, and independent living much more of a challenge, and much less of a possibility.

Next: Is college in an autistic adult’s future?

3. Adults with ASD are less likely to attend or finish college

Many adults with autism never complete their college education.

Even those who get into college aren’t always able to attend. | iStock.com/Png-Studio

Even if they’re intellectually able, a large percentage of students with ASD who graduate high school don’t continue their studies. Resaerch shows young adults with ASD attend college at much lower rates than those without. This becomes even more likely if they have a co-occurring intellectual disability. Though schools are required by law to create transition plans for autistic students aging out of the public school system, this doesn’t always prepare them for adjusting to life after high school. As a result, many struggle to find jobs and live on their own.

Next: This is what it’s like to look for a job when you have autism.

4. Adults with ASD are less likely to find employment

Jobs pose a number of new challenges for people with autism.

Real-world jobs are hard to get — and even harder to keep. | iStock.com/DragonImages

According to some research, many autistic adults have a hard time finding and keeping jobs after high school. There are social, behavioral, intellectual, and educational barriers that make work a challenge for many with ASD. They can’t always communicate well or effectively in professional settings, and many jobs also aren’t tolerable for those who depend on strict rules and routines. It’s even harder for those with intellectual disabilities. Without a high enough education level, many simply don’t qualify for the majority of jobs.

Unfortunately, unemployment affects various aspects of an autistic person’s life, especially their independence. A sense of independence has a positive influence on their behavior and social life.

Next: Many adults with ASD stay very close to home.

5. Many continue living with their parents after high school

Some people with autism never move away from their parents at all.

Moving away from home isn’t always a possibility. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Adults with ASD are less likely to live independently, compared to young adults with other psychological barriers. Researchers also found those with daily living skills and higher household incomes were more likely to live independently. However, many don’t possess these skills. Their families also often suffer economically in their efforts to care for them growing up. Both of these facts make it more difficult for these adults to live safely on their own. There are community settings for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities; however, this can cost thousands of dollars per person per year.

Next: What does it cost for an adult with ASD to move out?

6. Community living can cost more per year than college tuition

A year in a live-in facility can cost more than a year of college.

Independent living for people with autism is not cheap. | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

Independent living is often possible, and beneficial, with support. Many states across the U.S. provide residential facilities for this purpose — but not for cheap. Autism Speaks funded a study reviewing the average yearly costs of caring for an adult with autism. In California, live-in facilities for people with ASD — some with intellectual disabilities, some without — might cost $43,867 per person per year. Unlike college, which might only last four to six years, this can go on for decades. Who pays for these services depends on the type of housing. However, families and individuals are often responsible for at least a portion of the yearly cost, even if they don’t pay in full.

Next: They often have other health issues.

7. Their physical health is worse

heart disease and epilepsy are extremely common.

They’re more likely to die of chronic disease. | iStock.com/champja

Adults with ASD experience more chronic conditions than the general population does. Research suggests they have higher rates of digestive and sleep disorders, immune system conditions, seizure disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. This is likely one reason adults with ASD don’t typically live as long as those without it. And if they don’t have access to adequate health care, managing chronic conditions becomes nearly impossible.

Next: Are mental illnesses also more common in people with autism?

8. Adults with ASD also exhibit poorer mental health

Mental illness is more common in people with autism.

Depression and anxiety are common in this population. | iStock.com/lolostock

In addition to physical, social, and behavioral hurdles, many autistic adults face the reality of a mental illness diagnosis. According to an Autism Speaks health report, adults with autism are also likely to live with schizophrenia, depression, and other mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders are also common among those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism. Adding a mental illness on top of a lifelong disorder like autism poses an even greater challenge in everyday life.

Next: Let’s take a closer look at suicide rates among autistic adults.

9. They’re more likely to consider suicide

People with autism are more likely to consider suicide.

Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the autism community. | iStock.com/AkilinaWinner

The CDC reported an estimated 4% of the adult U.S. population had thoughts of suicide in 2015. Approximately 66% of adults with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism) in one study reported suicidal ideation. According to research, suicide is a leading cause of premature death among people with autism, and many on the autism spectrum experience suicidal ideation without exhibiting symptoms of depression. Researchers, therefore, don’t know why suicide is so prevalent in this population. Lack of support, poverty or unemployment, social isolation, or other mental or physical conditions are all possible risk factors.

Next: Why don’t adults with ASD live longer?

10. They also have shorter lifespans

People with autism face more disease and greater risk of suicide and early death.

The average lifespan of a person with autism is 54 years. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

We touched on this a bit already, but it warrants mentioning again. According to Healthline, individuals with ASD die an average of 16 years earlier than those without — to just their mid-50s. Heart disease, suicide, and epilepsy are among the top causes of early death. Many adults with autism also often die as a result of injuries such as drowning. In general, adults with ASD are sicker — and as more of them age, lack of adequate care significantly worsens their prognosis.

Next: What is it like for a person with autism trying to get health care?

11. They are less likely to receive health care

Health care is even more important for people with autism.

Many adults with autism never receive health care assistance. | iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

People with autism have special health care needs. Until adulthood, a pediatrician provides this care. Research suggests, however, that many teens never get around to discussing a transition to a new primary care doctor once they turn 18. Adults with intellectual disabilities face an even greater challenge here. Having one or several health conditions in addition to ASD makes a person even less likely to receive adequate coverage and care. Access to health care services can have a positive impact on any adult’s life. Adults with ASD especially benefit from being able to meet regularly with a physician.

Next: How much does it cost to support an adult with autism?

12. Autism can cost millions over a person’s lifetime

Autism can cost individuals, families, and the nation millions of dollars.

Autism is expensive across the lifespan. | iStock.com/dolgachov

According to a JAMA Pediatrics report, supporting a person with ASD can cost the individual, their families, and society up to $2.4 million in their lifetime. The majority of these costs span throughout childhood, mostly to pay for special education services. Parental productivity loss — the time parents spend caring for their children instead of working — was also included in the report. Throughout adulthood, residential living costs and personal productivity loss contributed to the rest of the expenses. Medical costs, more so for adults than children, also added to the financial load.

Next: This is what the future of autism might look like.

13. Autism is lifelong, with no proven cause and no cure — yet

There is no cure for autism.

Children with autism grow up, and many find it difficult to cope. | iStock.com/MariaDubova

Receiving an autism diagnosis was extremely rare 20 years ago, which is likely why the prevalence of ASD seems so much higher today. The CDC reports 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD. Most people are diagnosed with autism by the age of 2, which can actually be a good thing. Early intervention can help both children and families learn to cope with this lifelong diagnosis. Because there is no cure, people live with the disorder well into adulthood. Behavioral therapies, medications, and learning social and daily living skills can help anyone with ASD live a happier, healthier life. But plenty of obstacles still await them as they face the real world.

Next: What can you do to make a difference?

14. More research funding could improve their quality of life

Autism research should also focus on adults.

Most autism research dollars go to kids — often those who aren’t even born yet. | iStock.com/anyaivanova

According to The Washington Post, autism research funding focuses mostly on genetics and children. This makes sense since adequate support for children with ASD helps them to reach their full potential as adults. The majority of research studying ASD in adults, on the other hand, simply identifies problems. This means adults with ASD will likely continue to live in poverty — unemployed, uneducated, and dependent on loved ones that won’t always be around to care for them.

Social support for adults with autism, and financial support to the foundations that fund further research on their behalf, can make a huge difference in the near future.

Read More: 10 Things You Never Knew About PTSD