Autism and ageing

Special hazards in ageing are magnified in autism.

I took some time this past summer to help a friend who had fallen and had to have surgery for multiple fractures that resulted.
Yesterday I heard from another friend that her husband had fallen getting out of the tub, and that she had fallen on the concrete walk outside their home.

I fell 2 years ago and did severe damage to muscles and tendons of one foot. It took months to recover full function.

I think you can guess where I’m headed with this one. All of us are over 60 years old, all of us were injured due to falls.

National council on ageing provides some information to put the importance of avoiding falls into perspective.

One in 4 people over 65 will have a fall this year.

Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury in those over age 65.

Falls are the most common reason for being hospitalized in the over 65 age group.

Do I have your attention now?

Autistic people may be at even more risk than the general population because of our struggles with seizures, poor proprioception, general poorer physical care and body condition, difficulties with executive function, and other autism associated struggles.

As any person ages, they become weaker, have problems with vision, slower reaction times, and other failure of our bodies to work as they used to. Health problems such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease, etc all make us more vulnerable to every day accidents.

What can we do to help ourselves live safely and thrive as we get older?

To prevent falls, we can talk to our doctors about our physical condition and medications that might interfere with coordination and balance or perception. We can ask for help in assessing our homes for safety hazards, as many senior programs are available today to help with risk assessment, therapy for balance and coordination, etc. Make sure your eyes get checked and that you have the right prescription lenses. If you have glasses use them, don’t try to get around the house without them!

We can ‘do it ourselves’ or ask family, friends or others to help us assess the risks associated with conditions at home.

Remove clutter from floors and especially hallways and stairs.

Provide safe footing on floors and in bathtubs and showers.
Remove throw rugs and look for trip hazards such as raised thresholds, step-up or down floors of multiple levels. Look for inclined or rough transition areas from one type of floor to another.

Use painted or bright colored tape to mark these places so that attention is called to these trouble spots if they can not be modified. Use traction strips or no slip mats for bathrooms and kitchens, and mark the edges of steps with bright color or white so they are more easily visible.


Be aware of porch and basement floors which can be so hazardous and slippery when wet. there are special textured paints which can be applied to most surfaces to provide better traction and add non-slip qualities to floors.

Wear clothing that is close to your body and does not drag (long cuffs, billowing legs or skirts of pajamas or hemlines of robes, trailing belts of robes, etc can all catch your feet, legs, or hands, and can be caught on projecting knobs, stair rail ends, or other furniture details.
Wear safe footwear.. no scuffs, socks, slippery bottomed slippers, bare feet, or thong type sandals. Shoes with non slip soles are better. Wear them from the moment you get up until you go to sleep at night, any time you are standing upright, wear those shoes !

Install hand rails and grab rails where they can help you most, bathrooms and stairways, long hallways, etc. You might need to use a walker or other assistive devices to help yourself rise from furniture or your bed. Your toilet might need a ‘booster seat’ and/ or bars on each side to make it easier to rise after use. You might even need lift/assist chairs or other electric boosters to help you rise from prone or sitting positions. Always use the hand rails going up and down stairs. Don’t carry things that require two hands up and down the stairs. Find different ways to get those things where you want them to be. Ask somebody to help or carry less at a time. Arrange things on one level as much as possible to keep from having to make trips up and down for things such as laundry, the freezer, or to care for pets etc. And be aware of pets around your feet as you walk or go up or down steps. Even if they were sleeping in the other room a moment ago, they will likely follow you closely if you move. ( you know that!)

Make sure you hide cords from lamps and other electrical devices so that they are not trip hazards. Make sure your pathways are lighted completely, no walking around in the dark! Use night lights everywhere you can. Make sure the pathway to the light switches in each room are clear. You might even use glow-in-the dark paint to make the switches easier to locate in the dark.

If you are aware that you are losing muscle tone or getting weaker, you might be able to get therapy or be prescribed particular exercises to do which will improve strength, balance, flexibility and grasp.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you right now, realize that it surely will apply as you get older. Think ahead about what you can do to ease the risks of injury or death because of falls, then please take action.

Things I have learned

This year has been one of personal growth.

I started this blog in January, thinking I could perhaps keep track of the things I am learning about my own autism and about getting older. I had decided that I wanted to share information about the things I have been learning just in case there are other older autistic people like me. At age 66 I thought I was most likely autistic, by 67 I was sure, but I did not get an “official ” diagnosis of autism until I was 68.

Everything in my life has changed due to my new self understanding and my knowing that diagnosis of autism. My disabilities are still there, I have the same struggles and the same weaknesses/ the same strengtsh. My unusual neurology has not changed, I was born this way, I will die this way.

Today I am looking at myself in new ways. I had not looked at myself or understood myself at all in the years before discovering my autism. I had learned to adapt my behaviors for survival and coping ( so very poorly with no understanding) and I can congratulate myself on living to the age of 65 without the knowledge of my autism. I am definitely a survivor.

Life is finally understandable with my knowing about autism. I can look back and see my traits through the window of autism and know that my failures, misunderstandings, pains, and sorrows were all affected by my autism and that nobody in those days knew or understood about that, any more than I did.

My life until diagnosis was an anarchy where autism ruled behind the scenes and nothing made sense because it was hidden. I was so busy struggling every day to understand what was happening, why, trying to keep my fears and anxiety and depression in check, and i went along putting out situational fire after fire. I did not have the tools of knowledge or the time for introspection.

Now retired and with much more time to spend on research, doing some soul and self thought searching and finally finding autism, I am anxious to share what I have learned and to attempt to share with other old folks the insights that set me free from all the years of self blame, misery, anxiety and desperation.

I was able to change the pattern because I could see how autism had worked in every corner and cranny, every dark and desolate place, every unforgiving and painful moment of my life.

It has been such a relief and such a freeing feeling to know and understand. I am not to blame for the way I was a spectacular failure most of my life. I am autistic and I did not have the tools or self understanding to make the adjustments I needed for a healthier and happier life.

Starting in January with this blog, I have tried to open the lid on the “toolbox” and to explain to myself as well as others how autism has affected me, how it works in others, and how I can have healing and better living now that I understand my autism.
I hope this blog has been useful and that it will help those new to autism at such a ripe old age to understand themselves and their history, their lives today, and to help improve their lives going forward with new understanding.
I salute you all as survivors, and encourage you to forgive yourself, take care of yourself, and to understand that it is not your fault, and you are definitely not alone.

What next? Now that I have my professional diagnosis, I can proceed with plans to reach out to other elders in my community, to raise the awareness of autism in the lost generations , particularly focusing on those who are of the “baby boom” generation. As elder autistics retire and need more support, I believe it is urgent to have understanding of their autism in order to provide safe and satisfactory conditions and to alleviate suffering and struggles whenever possible.
With self understanding we can become advocates for ourselves and others who are trapped in cycles of pain which they don’t understand and which might be helped with knowing about their own undiagnosed autism.

I will still write here about how autism can affect us and continue to try to explain the things I am learning. But I will focus locally on finding the 200 or more undiagnosed autistic people here in my own area. ( number based on population of people over age 20 in my county and city).
Feeling optimistic.