YOUR HEALTH: Studying autism as kids become adults

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – What does adulthood look like to teenagers with autism?

A researcher at the University of Utah went straight to the kids to see what they wanted their future to look like.

That included Evan and Aaron Newman.

They are about to graduate from high school.

Both have autism.   Both worry about impending adulthood.

"I'm not ready to deal with strangers a whole bunch," said Evan.   "I like having a more familiar setting like with my family."

"It's probably, like the scariest thing I've ever had looming ahead of me," added Aaron.  "It's kind of this big unknown."

Both were part of the research project seeing how autistic teens understand the transition into adulthood.

University of Utah assistant professor Anne Kirby interviewed 27 students.

"So much research is about people on the autism spectrum, but it's not with them," explained Kirby.   "So it's not talking to them, it's not hearing their own voices and their own ideas."

The kids told Kirby they want good jobs, college, and families.

But they didn't always grasp how to get there or challenges their disability could bring.

Evan and Aaron's mom knows all about that.   Her two older children also are autistic.

"It's just all those other coping skills, that executive functioning, the planning, the ability to handle the stress," said Jennifer Newman.

She and Kirby agree that adulthood is a more subjective place for kids with autism and that preparing them should start early.

"We do want to work with teens and families and service systems to help start as early as possible, preparing for adulthood," said Kirby.

Kirby hopes her study will lead to better transition services for kids like Evan and Aaron.

TREATMENT:   Scientists agree that the earlier in life a child receives intervention services the better the child`s prognosis.   All children with autism can benefit from early intervention, and some may gain enough skills to be able to attend mainstream school.   The most effective treatments available today are applied behavioral analysis (ABA), occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and pharmacological therapy.   Treatment works to minimize the impact of the core features and associated deficits of ASD and to maximize functional independence and quality of life.   Pharmaceutical treatments can help ameliorate some of the behavioral symptoms of ASD. Risperidone is the first FDA-approved medication for the treatment of symptoms associated with of ASD in children and adolescents, including aggressive behavior, deliberate self-injury, and temper tantrums. (Source: https://autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/treatment-options/)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.