When I got a recent comment from one of my regular viewers I realized it was time for another post about Autism. This one is about senior citizens who are autistic but are generally undiagnosed. A recognized statistics is that there are over a million of us that are autistic in the Baby Boomer generation alone.
Even if those million were suddenly officially diagnosed to be autistic it is very doubtful that any but a small percentage of them would even accept that fact. It is kind of like another area that I am familiar with and that is hearing impairment. Only about one in five seniors who have hearing difficulties seek help. They just insist that all of a sudden everyone started mumbling.
In that same vein, too many in our boomer generation see autism in any form as being a disgraceful thing that is to be locked in the closet, and for the most severe cases that was the general rule for our generation. Sadly, that is a totally misconceived notion that I want to try to put a small dent in with this meager post.
Autism is not a dreaded disease but instead is really just a way that a significant portion of the population see and react to the world. Their perceptions in some ways make them unique and special.
I admit that I am just beginning to learn the intricacies of the autism spectrum so I have a lot to learn. For that reason, I can’t really address the spectrum idea with any degree of knowledge. But, what I have studied is a condition called Asperger Syndrome so I will concentrate on that anomaly for the purposes of this post.
Here is what the Autism Speaks organization says about Aspergers:
Asperger syndrome was generally considered to be on the “high functioning” end of the spectrum. Affected children and adults have difficulty with social interactions and exhibit a restricted range of interests and/or repetitive behaviors. Motor development may be delayed, leading to clumsiness or uncoordinated motor movements. Compared with those affected by other forms of ASD, however, those with Asperger syndrome do not have significant delays or difficulties in language or cognitive development. Some even demonstrate precocious vocabulary – often in a highly specialized field of interest.
The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger syndrome. However, they are seldom all present in any one individual and vary widely in degree:
• limited or inappropriate social interactions
• “robotic” or repetitive speech
• challenges with nonverbal communication (gestures, facial expression, etc.) coupled with average to above average verbal skills
• tendency to discuss self rather than others
• inability to understand social/emotional issues or nonliteral phrases
• lack of eye contact or reciprocal conversation
• obsession with specific, often unusual, topics
• one-sided conversations
• awkward movements and/or mannerisms
Many in the Baby Boomer generation readily admit that they have always had several of the traits of Aspergers. The causes of those characteristics were labeled as just being: shy, timid, introvert. Many say that they have problems with making eye contact or trouble with conversations/small talk that others seem to readily accomplish.
Some, who are much more knowledgeable than I have put together a list of possible undiagnosed Aspies in the celebrity world today.
- James Taylor – Age 70
- Dan Aykroyd – Age 65
- Vladimir Putin – age 65
- Susan Boyle – age 57
- Isaac Asimov – died at age 72
- Daryl Hannah – age 55
- Bill Gates – age 62
- Abraham Lincoln – died at age 56
- Robin Williams – died at age 63
- Bob Dylan – age 76
A good portion of this list is Baby Boomers. I would be proud to be included in this influential list with them. They, because of their Aspie traits are very creative people who speak their minds. Aspergers is not something to be ashamed of but instead just describes some fundamental characteristics of our personalities that make us different from others. If you want to see more details on why these people are either confirmed or likely Aspies click here.
Before I close this topic, I want to delve a little more into the general topic of autism.
From Autism Speaks — Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.
The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.
In the end, what does in matter if seniors deny the possibility that they are Aspies? In most cases, there is likely no harm. But it is also known that these traits become more significant as we age and lose some of our inhibitions, so maybe this information in the hands of our caregivers would be valuable.
2 thoughts on “Autism In The Elderly?”
You could list almost every major surgeon and researcher here. Autism has been mischaracterized as a bad thing. In reality, it is the innate ability to move away from any distraction (including people) and hyper focus on something. When mixed with ADHD it can become a problem, because the person has less of an ability to interact with others and pick up clues that they are being inappropriate. Autism and Mentally Handicapped used to be hand and hand in text books—but the majority of 130+ IQ people also have the tendency to be autistic. BTW- the DSM no longer distinguishes between Autism and Aspergers. In the past Autism was diagnosed at or before age three and Aspergers was after that time.
Interesting, isn’t it?
Just like personality traits, it is important to see what you have been dealt and then work to use that make up in the best way possible.
As I told countless students, you are way more then a label. You are an individual.
Thanks, Jan for your thoughts. I agree with what you say but I do know that there are some extreme versions of autism that are quite disabling and seriously hamper a normal life. We can’t disregard that. I was totally shocked a few years ago when I came across the symptoms of Aspergers and found that so many of them were the stories of my life. The lack of socialization did keep me back in some regards but as you say the ability to be able to TOTALLY focus on the problem at hand is a definite asset. My wife of 32 years sometimes doesn’t see it that way when she wants my attention during one of these many periods but she has come to accept that that is just part of what I am.
I totally agree that we are not labels but individuals with different talents and characteristics.