The number of diagnosed cases of autism is exploding. Children with autism will grow into
adults and society is nowhere near ready to support them. In order to prepare for that eventuality, current adults on the autism spectrum need to be studied, but researchers are having a hard time finding them.
Concerned about the lack of information on the prevalence of autism in adults, autism expert David Mandell and his team conducted a study entitled: Prevalence and Correlates of Autism in a State Psychiatric Hospital. He concluded the following:
"Ten percent of the sample had ASD. More than other patients, their onset was prior to 12 years of age, they had gait problems and intellectual disability, and were less likely to have a history of criminal involvement or substance
abuse. Undiagnosed ASD may be common in psychiatric hospitals”.
One in ten people confined to state mental institutions probably have undiagnosed autism!
For the record, I do not believe that these invisible adults on the spectrum together with children being diagnosed earlier and more effectively account entirely for the epidemic of autism. Genetic propensity is provoked by environmental triggers that have grown in number over the last twenty years, including the environment of the womb.
The number of undiagnosed individuals languishing in institutions is disturbing and heartbreaking, bringing to mind the heroes of “Wretches & Jabberers” who toured the world after being confined to adult disability centers all their lives. With the introduction of keyboarding came expressive freedom for the non-verbal pair who galvanized the world, shattering autism myths in their wake.
Do we simply ignore the moral imperative this study represents? These people’s lives could still be improved and enhanced given proper diagnosis and treatment. They can be given tools to communicate, a path out of isolation.
While the significance of this study is being hailed in terms of accurate counting of adults with autism, I’m wondering who will address those numbers as the individual human beings that they are and help them improve the quality of their tragic lives.