Getting older with autism

Many of us born 40 years ago or more grew up on our own, without insight into what made is ‘different’ ‘odd’ a “weirdo” , nor did we have any idea that the struggles of our lives were different or greater than others around us. We grew up self critical, not understanding why things that seemed so easy for others were so very difficult for us. Why, why, why can’t I ‘get it’ , ‘do it’, ‘behave like others’, ‘make friends,’ ‘be good at a certain skill or schoolwork’, why can’t I sit still, why can’t I pay attention…. why? Now we know the answer could be autism.

Autism is neurological in origin, our nervous systems are different and we learn to use our bodies and brains differently because of those differences. This is ‘neurological processing’ differences. But autism is not defined by how we process things from a neurological basis, but it is defined by our behavior. This is why autism is lumped in with other neurological issues which show behavioral consequences.

When I began to learn about autism I recognized myself not as I am today, but in my childhood and early life. I could see that most behaviors and problems I had when I was young were symptoms/signs of my autism. Along the way, in my early 30’s, I got some good counseling for unhealthy behavior I had learned in my early life, and was able to put into practice, without ever suspecting I was autistic. Those healthy behaviors have stuck with me and I suspect without those and a very reliable and supportive spouse, my life would have ended in misery years ago. I suspect there are thousands of autistic people today in their senior years who have not been lucky enough to learn about their autism and are still struggling with false beliefs about their perceived failures, weaknesses, misdiagnosed mental illnesses, and more. I would like to try to reach others who suffered as I did in childhood and early life, and who may be suffering now with false ideas about their self worth, emotional strength, worthiness, even wondering about their sanity and ability to recover.

Nursing homes, hospitals, and other institutions generally have no idea about autism and there are so many things that could be done to help people cope within the restrictions of their surroundings, and help individuals toward better health and allow better care.

As we get older, studies suggest some symptoms of our autism may grow in severity. An autistic person who is easily confused in every day life may become so confused in a care setting that they are diagnosed with dementia or other disorders. An autistic person who is distressed by sudden touch may fight bitterly when attendants try to give basic care to the bedridden or wheelchair bound, for instance. Those autistic folks who are upset by noise and flashing lights will not enjoy daily “social time” in a large room filled with echoes, television blasting and fluorescent lights flickering, and as a result may be restive or combative. Echolalia may be mistaken for mocking or other deliberately insulting behavior.

There are probably a hundred more issues that could be helped to make things safer and more comfortable for residents and staff if properly addressed through understanding of autism. So much misunderstanding and misery could be avoided or alleviated by enlightened choices on the part of the autistic person and those who care for or about them in any setting.

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