In The Politics of Autism, I write:
Many analyses of autism speak as if it were only a childhood ailment and assume that parents are the main stakeholders. But most children with autism grow up to be adults with autism, and they suffer uniquely high levels of social isolation. Almost 40 percent of youth with an autism spectrum disorder never get together with friends, and 50 percent of never receive phone calls from friends. These figures are higher than for peers with intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, or learning disability. When school ends, many adults with autism have grim prospects. Though evidence is sparse, it seems that most do not find full-time jobs. Compared with other people their age, they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and suicide attempts.
Social support can take many forms, such as practical help, time spent socially with others, or the satisfaction with personal relationships. Social support is known to affect quality of life (QoL) in both non-autistic older and autistic young adults. QoL reflects how satisfied an individual is with their life either overall or in a certain area. We know little about middle-aged and older autistic adults’ experiences of social support or QoL. In this study, 388 adults aged 40–83 years old, completed online questionnaires asking about background such as age and sex, depression and anxiety symptoms, QoL (physical, psychological, social, environmental, and autism-specific), and different types of social support. Even after taking into account background, depression, and anxiety, social support was important for individuals’ QoL. To our knowledge this is the first paper to examine the relationship between social support and QoL in middle-aged and older autistic adults. Improving social support may have a significant impact on the QoL of older autistic adults. Future studies should examine whether age-related changes in social support (size, content, and arrangement of social networks) that are common in non-autistic aging, also occur among older autistic adults.