Adults with Autism and Mental Retardation. A Life-Span Perspective

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: A review of the literature with a life-span perspective on autism gave rise to the formulation of a general research problem: Can demographic factors, individual factors, and social factors (i.e., education, residential facilities, treatment and other services) explain some of the variance in autistic behaviour and social adaptation in adult life? Historic influences, such as the Acts on services for people with mental retardation, reflected in social factors were emphasised. In a retrospective design two groups of adults with autism (DSM-III-R criteria) and mental retardation were studied, the RFA group, sampled through Riksföreningen Autism (n = 48, mean age 35 years) and the County group, a treated population group (n =39, mean age 37 years). The results showed that the RFA group functioned on a higher intellectual level and had better adult social adaptation (measured by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales) than the County group. There were no differences in autistic behaviour (measured by the Childhood Autism Rating Scale) either in childhood or in adulthood. Concerning social factors, the Acts for mentally retarded had had major practical consequences. From the common situation with confinement in large institutions, better opportunities for education, more normal residence (group homes), and for occupation (day-centres) had emerged. Regarding treatment, the most persistent trend was the high use of psychoactive medication. After merging the two groups, analyses showed that the major predictive factors of adult autistic behaviour and social adaptation were intellectual level, speech ability and, with regard to social adaptation, epilepsy. The main conclusion is that intellectual level and speech ability are relatively more important than other factors for functioning of adults with autism and mental retardation. The results are discussed with reference to the adequacy of the measures used to capture effects of the social factors and the importance of also investigating samples with higher intellectual levels.

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