The New, Adult Face of Autism

Thursday, April 4, 2013

As awareness of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) rises, so too have the number of diagnoses — and not just among children. The number of adults who are living with autism is growing rapidly, according to Michelle Rowe, Ph.D., executive director of the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

“Not only are children who were diagnosed in the 90s now hitting young adulthood, but parents of children who are getting diagnosed are realizing they share many of the symptoms,” says Rowe, who is also a professor of health services. “Dealing with the adult population brings a unique set of challenges and needs. The autism community must recognize that.”

At the Kinney Center, programs designed for adults with ASD are being added that offer opportunities for social growth, as well as life skill training.

“For adults with ASD, independent living can be a struggle,” says Rowe. “Our programs are designed to teach daily living skills in areas such as money management, meal preparation and food management, personal hygiene and health, housekeeping and emergency and safety skills.”

Rowe also points to the increase in individuals with autism attending college, and stresses the need for the higher education community to prepare to serve this population.

“We’re breaking down the stereotypes and teens with ASD are no longer being told they shouldn’t bother with college,” Rowe says. “Many individuals with autism have the intellectual capacity to succeed in college, but may require support in social areas. They may need some extra help talking to their professors or navigating the nuances of roommate relationships.”

Rowe believes that the Kinney Center has a model for institutions of higher education. Its pilot ASPIRE Program admitted three students with ASD this year who are receiving one-on-one support in every aspect of the college experience. All three students, Rowe says, are thriving.

Rowe can be reached for comment by contacting the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222.

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