Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental and neurological condition typically diagnosed in childhood; the affected individuals experience challenges with social interactions, present repetitive behaviors, known as stimming, and maybe nonverbal or have restricted speech patterns known as prosody. Their poor social skills lead to problems in securing employment and maintaining relationships. Siri Carpenter’s article “For Adults with Autism, a Lack of Support When They Need It Most” explores the way adult individuals with autism cope with the daily challenges when the bulk of research and financing is focused on the condition in children. This paper critically examines the way the author elaborates on the problems adults with ASD face and proposes improvements to the article.
Carpenter opens with a portrait of Jonas Moore, a man well aware of the fact that his disability is invisible. As individuals with Autism are known to avoid eye contact, the author makes a point to stress that the subject interviewed does meet her eyes. However, describing Moore as “intelligent and thoughtful, if perhaps a bit reserved” may present ethical concerns, as it may further perpetuate the stereotype of an autistic savant (Carpenter). Additionally, low-functioning individuals with Autism are often nonverbal and non-communicative in other ways, and thus perceived as having lower intelligence. Thus, the author could be said to make subjective conclusions about the subject’s level of intellect, a fact that can be viewed as unethical.
These individuals prefer being alone not because they are antisocial, but because of difficulties in managing emotional expression and nonverbal signs during social interactions; these issues can be improved via treatment. Moore attributes his success to “getting the right amount of medication and therapy, to time’s maturing him and to the fact that he works mostly alone” (Carpenter). While the findings of a study by Magiati et al. suggest that certain improvements in daily living skills of ASD adults may be observed with time, there is less improvement in socialization skills (84). Additionally, due to the public misinterpreting the meltdowns caused by overstimulation as tantrums, these individuals are often ostracized and discriminated against.
The author then addresses the problem of insufficient research on Autism in adults, stating that the majority pursues the causes and a cure, not an improvement in the existing symptoms and behavior. The funding for support and therapy programs in adults is insufficient, as most of these focus on the affected children. Citing several studies, Carpenter stresses that the lack of support leads not only to an absence of progress in managing the symptoms but to the worsening of mental health. Support, thus, is all the more vital, as van Elst et al. state that “ASD is associated with a very high prevalence of comorbid classical psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, tics, psychotic symptoms or emotionally unstable syndromes” (189). Moreover, when these individuals experience frustration, isolation, and all-encompassing loneliness, self-harming behaviors or suicidal thoughts may appear.
Next, the author presents the findings of a particular study using wording that certainly lacks both sense and sensibility. According to Carpenter, the more independent ASD adults were at work, the more “improvement they showed over the next five years in social interactions, communication skills, repetitive behaviors, self-harm, socially offensive behavior and activities such as housekeeping and making meals” ( par. 19). This wording needs to be revised, as an increase in positive changes as to social and self-care skills certainly cannot mean one of the negative symptoms, such as self-harm and inappropriate behavior, as well. Therefore, the reader is confused as to the understanding of the notion of improvements in self-harm.
The author then thoroughly covers the challenges ASD individuals face in their work lives. The list contains difficulties in interpreting nonverbal clues in conversation, following workplace instructions, and planning and organizing tasks, among other things. As, according to White et al., “social interactions with peers typically constitute the most challenging interpersonal situations for people with ASD,” a program that teaches these individuals the social skills are most beneficial; however, few of these exist (5).
Carpenter is thorough in explaining how the family is the primary source of care and support for most individuals with Autism. However, one cannot say that the article is well-researched, as it is misleading in a crucial way. Alleging that high-functioning in persons with ASD means that they “have average or above-average intelligence,” Carpenter demonstrates a lack of understanding of the notion of functionality as concerning Autism. As van Elst et al. state, ‘‘high-functioning generally refers to the capacity of patients to use language in a superficially normal way” in addition to higher intelligence (191). Therefore, the author negates the narratives of those ASD individuals that are nonverbal when these persons need even more support in adulthood, as they have greater difficulties in securing a job.
The article by Carpenter presents a somewhat haphazard view on autism in adults, switching between personal experiences of an affected individual, and an overview of the studies on the subject. Crucially, the author misuses the term high-functioning, thus misleading the audience and perpetuating existing stereotypes. One might see a need for improving specific wording as well. All in all, with regards to the general public, the article is neither thoroughly scientific nor a compelling human interest story.
Carpenter, Siri. “For Adults with Autism, a Lack of Support When They Need It Most.” The Washington Post. 2015, Web.
van Elst, Ludger Tebartz, et al. “High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder as a Basic Disorder in Adult Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: Psychopathological Presentation, Clinical Relevance, and Therapeutic Concepts.” European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, vol. 263, no. 2, 2013, pp.189-196, Web.
Magiati, Iliana, et al. “Cognitive, Language, Social and Behavioural Outcomes in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Follow-Up Studies in Adulthood.” Clinical Psychology Review, vol. 34, no.1, 2014, pp. 73-86, Web.
White, Susan W., et al. “Evaluating Change in Social Skills in High-Functioning Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder Using a Laboratory-Based Observational Measure.” Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, vol 30, no.1, 2015, pp. 3-12, Web.