New research sheds light on quality of life and mental health issues for adults with autism

New research by psychologists at Edge Hill University has shed light on the quality of life and mental health issues experienced by adults diagnosed with autism.

Dr Liam Cross and Dr Gray Atherton worked with partners on a new study that explores the link between the age at which an adult with autism is diagnosed and the impact it has on their life.

Experts say a significant proportion of adults with autism today were not diagnosed until later in life, a group often referred to as the “lost generation”.

This latest study, published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, explores how chronological age, age of diagnosis, and gender may affect the mental health of adults diagnosed with autism.

The results revealed that adults with autism had lower quality of life outcomes and higher levels of autistic traits related to the age of diagnosis and indicated that although adults are empowered by their new diagnosis, they still need specialized support.

Dr Cross and Dr Atherton, who are both senior lecturers in psychology, collaborated with Emma Edisbury, a student at Edge Hill MSc Psychology (Conversion), and Dr Andrea Piovesan of the Università Iuav di Venezia, on the study.

Dr Cross said: “As the study interviews revealed, being diagnosed with autism in adulthood can be very emotional. Under these circumstances, a person often feels the need to reconsider who they are, how they explain themselves to others, and how they rewrite their own story.

“Almost all of the study participants stressed the importance of therapy and the difficulty in receiving treatment. Perhaps it should be realized that adults receiving late diagnoses with autism will have to deal with the consequences of years of trauma, of feeling misunderstood, not knowing why.

In many cases, receiving a formal diagnosis can finally help “make sense” in a person’s life. A diagnosis can give adults a chance to recover parts of their history in which they have been misunderstood and it is vital to create support for this specific part of the autistic population, if they are to enjoy the same quality gains from life as you get older.

Dr Gray Atherton, Edge Hill University

This work will hopefully serve as a catalyst for future research aimed at improving the post-diagnostic supports available to adults with autism. It also stresses the importance for people to receive a timely diagnosis, especially with regards to identity and self-acceptance.


Journal reference:

Atherton, G., et al. (2021) Autism through the ages: a mixed methods approach to understand how age and age of diagnosis affect quality of life. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


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