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Autism and Aging: Hardly Out of the Woods

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Leo Kanner first described autism in 1943, but it took the America Psychiatric Association almost 40 years to recognize it officially in 1980. It is one of five diverse pervasive developmental disorders grouped under the diagnostic category of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Autism's core symptoms include socialization deficits, inability to understand and communicate with others, and restricted, repetitive behavioral patterns. Few children “outgrow it” or are cured. While good care and early intervention can help children develop the skills they need to deal with others in socially appropriate ways, clinicians usually see these same or similar behaviors in adults. ASD is associated with an array of problems including anxiety, depression, food allergies, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Because the onset of autism occurs in early childhood, long-term care practitioners are more apt to encounter older adults who were misdiagnosed in childhood. When behavioral interventions are not fully effective, clinicians and families may look for medication. No medications are approved to treat autism's core symptoms. People with ASD have mental health disorders at rates higher than their peers, and these disorders can be treated. Long-term care practitioners need to prepare to see the people first diagnosed with autism in the 1980s who are now reaching old age with the need for long-term care facilities.

Abbreviations: ASD = Autism spectrum disorders, CDC = Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DSM-IV = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition), EEG = Electroencephalogram, IgE = Immunoglobulin E, IQ = Intelligence quotient, PDD = Pervasive developmental disorders, PDD-NOS = Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

Keywords: Adult autism; Asperger's disorder; Autism spectrum disorders; Pervasive developmental disorders; Restrictive-repetitive behaviors

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-09-01

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  • The Consultant Pharmacist® is the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. It is dedicated exclusively to the medication needs of the elderly in all settings, including adult day care, ambulatory care, assisted living, community, hospice, and nursing facilities. This award-winning journal is a member benefit of ASCP. Individuals who are not members and wish to receive The Consultant Pharmacist® will want to consider joining ASCP.
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