Millennials have grown up learning about autism, and how it may impact other kids in class, but the disorder was only officially identified 40 years ago, which leaves one big unknown.
“We’ve really had no concept for what autism looked like in adults until recently," said Dr. Blair Braden, a health solutions professor at ASU.
She is heading up a four-year study on aging and autism in adults.
So far, that's only been studied in the Netherlands and Great Britain. Her study is being funded by state and federal grants, in partnership with Barrow Neurological Institute and the Southwest Autism Research Center.
“What we’re most interested in is that people have the quality of life they want when they’re around,” said Braden.
She's looking at the brains of 130 adults, half of which have autism, to find out what gets more difficult with age and what doesn't.
She gives examples.
“Planning, decision making, changing and being flexible when things come up, those things tend to be more difficult for people on the spectrum,” said Braden.
But she said some things do improve with age, like memory. The goal is to figure out how to strengthen parts of the brain.
Robb Behr, 62, is one of the participants.
“I don’t have the ability to communicate using facial expressions or tone of voice,” said Behr.
He said he was only diagnosed with autism four years ago.
“If I had been diagnosed when I was in, say, grade school, I would have been called schizophrenic and they would’ve sent me down a pharmaceutical gauntlet,” said Behr.
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Today, he's an engineer, but he said his social disabilities have caused managers to question his work.
He hopes Dr. Braden's study will help make life easier down the road, paving a new path for adults just like him.
“She listens to us and has an honest interest,” said Behr.
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