Study Finds Ten Percent of State Hospital Patients Have Autism

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.

10 Responses to Study Finds Ten Percent of State Hospital Patients Have Autism

  1. Susan Ford Keller says:

    I wonder how many inmates with autism are in prison because they weren’t properly supervised. Anecdotally, I know of man in Maryland with autism who was at a park by himself. He approached a 7 year old girl, who had been left alone by her nanny, and offered her money. He sexually abused the child. He was convicted and sentenced to prison. The court was not interested in the fact that he has autism. Had the man been supervised, this tragic situation would not have happened.

  2. Susan says:

    Yes, I’m sure if they did a similar count in prisons, the results would be truly horrifying.

    We know that many with autism are wrongly incarcerated and killed because police don’t know how to interact with them. More individuals with autism are stopped by police, and typically they haven’t even committed a crime.

    Then when newspapers report on a person with autism actually committing a crime it increases public hysteria over autism group homes and other such issues.


  3. Susan Ford Keller says:

    Susan, I truly believe the young man I wrote about probably functioned emotionally at about the age of the child he assaulted. If they had been same age peers, would we have chalked it up to 2 kids playing doctor? I’m not trying to minimize what happened to the little girl. But, the man’s parents have some culpability also by not supervising him. I think his case points up the need FOR group homes or assisted living for many adults with autism. It’s in the public interest to shelter anyone who cannot live on their own for whatever reason.

    Link to the latest developments in this case:

  4. Anne McElroy Dachel says:

    Before this study is used as proof that autism has always been around–we just haven’t been diagnosing it right, I’m still waiting for someone to show us the adults with full-blown autism, whose symptoms are undeniable. I can go to local schools and find these kids in special ed rooms. I can’t go to area nursing homes and find elderly residents like this. Dr. Thomas Insel, head of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) created by Congress to deal with autism, has said that 80 percent of Americans with autism are under the age of 18 and he warned that we need “to prepare for a million people who may be in need of significant services.” Nothing is being done to handle the approaching tsunami of dependent adults that will descend on social services in the coming years. The IACC now calls autism “a national health emergency.”
    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism

  5. Sharon says:

    @Anne McElroy Dachel: Perhaps you can’t go to nursing homes and find autistic elderly because at the time they were children, they would have been put in mental hospitals. Not every family can afford to put their high needs elderly into nursing homes. Many expended those funds ages ago on care for them. They live in the attic rooms of their grandchildren; seen but not seen, they live in subsidized housing; the crazy old lady that pushes the baby stroller full of rocks every day…

    You should look at the elderly prison population, the elderly on welfare, living on the street, living out of homeless shelters and government assistance facilities. Don’t expect to find them all neat and tidy and cared for. Look for them swept under the rug, pushed aside and forgotten, known of but never talked about by family. THIS is where you find elderly autistic people.

  6. Susan says:

    Susan, another avoidable tragedy for all concerned. Certainly someone should’ve intervened on the young man’s behalf before it came to this.
    I think judges should receive mandatory training in autism along with police officers.

    No matter how many undiagnosed and misdiagnosed adults there are, there are still more children round the bend with autism as our society dithers about numbers and causes. We’ve got to get our head in the game and get prepared, even as we try to help those who’ve been warehoused into oblivion.


  7. Holly N says:

    My brother spent a year or two in an mental intuition and they failed to properly diagnose him with Asperger’s. He is now in and out of jail for minor probation violations. The court did send him to a lock down treatment but he was quickly sent back to jail because he was suicidal and too sick for treatment. Jail is the new treatment for people like my brother. They house him apart from the general population but he receives no help while in jail. They just released him a week ago and he is even more messed up then when he went in.

    My father was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was around 60 after my half brother was diagnosed as a young child. I then started to look into what it was and self diagnosed myself at 40 years of age. I found a expert to confirm it and had all the signs of it. I did get special ed help in school but they didn’t know what I had. I learned to hide my differences with the help of teaches. My special ed teacher insisted that I look her in the eye but that really creeps me out so I learned to fake eye contact by staring through her to make her happy.

    People do not care about adults with Autism because they think autism magically vanishes at 18. They think we can take care of ourselves and that we need no help. Most of us have no healthcare because we cant afford insurance or cant get through the paperwork to get government insurance.

    People don’t want to see adults with autism, they want to pretend we are just lazy good for nothing people that do not want to work. I do work but found it too frustrating to work for someone else so I’m self employed. I need help with many things but since I have no insurance I get no help. I need ADD medications that helped me in the past but since my husband got laid off we have no health insurance.

    The experts fail to study adults with Autism thinking that it is better to look at the kids with undeveloped communication skills. Many adults like myself know how the autistic kids feel because I were once young and remember how I were different. I know what helped me but no one wants to listen to me because I have no big college degrees to back up what I say.

  8. Susan says:

    I really feel for you. Your story strikes close to home for me on a number of levels. Incarceration is the go-to response in this society, and it always makes matters worse. Misdiagnosis and wrong treatment plans create untold tragedies.

    The one thing I always suggest is a food allergy test, because it saved my autistic son’s life. He bounced from school to school, was misdiagnosed as psychotic and locked down twice in a mental ward, then nearly died from Crohn’s. Changing his diet changed everything, I only wish someone had recommended it sooner, but most AMA doctors shun diet as quackery.

    A couple of websites for adults with autism exist.

    I read about a new one coming out called “Autism after 16″ you can be on the lookout for.

    I hope they can be of some help and/or solace to you.

    Best of Luck,


  9. Socrates says:

    There is an ongoing study into autism in the Scottish Prison population, funded by Research Autism, led by Prof Eve Johnstone – it was supposed to have reported several years ago.

    One of her colleagues Louise Robinson stated publicly in presentation that a rate of 10% was common for female prisoners.

    I believe the results of the study have been buried.

  10. Susan says:

    That’s interesting, esp. since it was females. I’ll try to track that down.


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