Community Blog

Tips for Caregivers Assisting Seniors with Autism

By Debbie Humphrey

I’ve noticed, more and more area events include a specific time and space allotted for those with autism and their families to attend, without the worries of large crowds, bright lights and loud noises that can be traumatic for those with the disorder.

I had never heard of autism spectrum disorder when I was growing up. Over the last two decades, however, it has become much more prevalent and worthy of our attention. In fact, unless they were diagnosed with autism in the 1960’s, many autistic adults and seniors don’t even realize they have it.

April is Autism Awareness Month, which includes recognizing seniors with autism, and ways family, friends and caregivers can properly engage and support them in their individual journeys.

Most aging adults with autism have learned to cope over the years without a clear diagnosis or recommendations for adapting to life with the disorder. It is remarkable when you consider the obstacles they have managed to overcome throughout their lives without special accommodations, medications, counseling, therapy, or even the realization of how challenging the obstacles really were!

For families, friends, and caregivers of seniors with autism, it is important that we, too, adapt to their way of life to minimize their agitation and frustration, and keep them as comfortable as possible. Autistic adults require the same care afforded to those without the disorder, however levels of care must be applied in different ways.

Communication with autistic adults can be a challenge, as well. According to author, Susan Dunne, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in her 40’s, “On the many days I spend alone, I am liable to forget how to talk. Having a chirpy care worker turn up at unexpected hours to make small talk and suggest joining bingo at the day centre is unlikely to be of benefit, however well meant.”

Strangers can cause agitation and anxiety for elderly adults with autism. It’s not just an unfamiliar face that can rattle them, but the fear of having to communicate and interact with others that prompts negative reactions.

Always address an autistic adult with specific, direct questions pertaining to health issues and avoid using broad terms. People suffering from autism process information differently, so they may not respond if they are unsure what you’re asking. Give them time to respond, and don’t assume they are ignoring you if they do not make eye contact or redirect their focus from a device or activity. Even more time may be necessary for autistic adults who use alternative language or augmentative communication tools like picture cards, signs or symbols, letter boards or typing to respond.

Never shout or yell at someone with autism. The loud noise will ignite panic and anxiety. Speak clearly, in a normal voice, even if you feel like screaming.

Routines are a way of life for us all. For aging adults with autism, they are even more important. Unfortunately, the independence and isolation autistic seniors have created over the course of their lives tends to diminish with aging, causing a traumatic shift in their everyday life. Try adhering to your loved one’s routines as much as possible, only making very subtle changes when necessary, to reduce frustration for you and them.
With newly-adapted autism-friendly events, try incorporating some social interaction into the mix. However, do not pressure your autistic loved one to participate. If they are interested, plan to accompany them. Who knows? If all goes well, they may surprise you by wanting to visit another special event created just for them!

Susan added, “I hope by the time I need age-related support that health and social care professionals will appreciate the importance of consistency and routine in managing anxiety in autism. I’d like it if they understood why loud noises, unexpected touch and doors left open can be anathema. I’d prefer it if I’m not assumed to have mental health issues or the onset of dementia because my brain processes information differently.”

Families and caregivers are invited to call the national Autism Society at 800-328-8476, with questions and concerns; or learn more about available resources and programs for seniors with autism at Autism Society of Florida.

Home Helpers® is honored to have been awarded the Provider of Choice 2017 award from Home Care Pulse recently, and we proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Contact me today to learn more about the many services offered through Home Helpers® We are Making Life Easier℠ 727.972.2539

Sources:

Spectrum News
The Guardian, Susan Dunne
Autistic Hoya, Lydia X. Z. Brown