Background: Originally described as a disorder of childhood, evidence now demonstrates the lifelong nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite the increase of the population over age 65, older adults with ASD remain a scarcely explored subpopulation. This study set out to investigate the prevalence of clinically relevant behaviors and medical problems in a sample of US adults aged 30 to 59 with ASD and intellectual disability (ID), in comparison to those with ID only.
Methods: A cross-sectional study, with both an exploratory and replication analysis, was conducted using National Core Indicators (NCI) multi-state surveys from 2009 to 2010 and 2010 to 2011. There were 4,989 and 4,261 adults aged 30-59 with ID examined from the 2009 to 2010 and 2010 to 2011 samples, respectively. The two consecutive annual samples consisted of 438 (9%) and 298 (7%) individuals with ASD and ID. Variables were chosen from the NCI data as outcomes, including medication use for behavior problems, severe or aggressive behavior problems and selected medical conditions.
Results: No age-associated disparities were observed between adults with ASD and ID versus adults with ID only in either sample. For the 2009 to 2010 sample, the prevalence of support needed to manage self-injurious, disruptive and destructive behavior in subjects with ASD and ID ranged from 40 to 60%. Similarly, the prevalence estimates of self-injurious, disruptive and destructive behavior were each almost double in adults with ASD and ID relative to those with ID only. These results were replicated in the 2010 to 2011 sample.
Conclusions: The findings of this study highlight the urgent need for research on the nature and treatment of severe behavior problems in the rapidly increasing population of older adults with ASD. They also suggest the importance of developing policies that expand our capacity to care for these individuals.