Autism Speaks published a toolkit for families of individuals with autism who are in the transitional period between adolescence and adulthood. In this toolkit there is a section on Health, which has a lot of good information and resources for families. They focus on three core areas: physical health, mental health and sexuality.
Individuals with autism, just like everyone else, need to visit their doctors and dentists for regular check-ups for preventative care. Similarly to when you were choosing a pediatrician for your child, the process of choosing a quality primary care physician (PCP) once your child is an adult (i.e. around 21 years of age) is an important decision. Your PCP may or may not be a good fit for the individual. It is important to ensure your child is part of the decision making process when choosing a doctor because they are the ones who will be visiting them on a regular basis. You want to make sure they are comfortable with the provider and that the provider understands how to address their particular needs.
Common co-occurring mental health issues for individuals with autism include anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is important to realize that certain behaviors and emotions may or may not be solely related to autism. If you’re concerned that your son or daughter with autism may have a co-occurring condition, it is important to bring this up to their PCP. These three conditions can exacerbate difficulties your child already is facing and are many times treatable with pharmacological interventions.
One of the most important, yet most avoided, topics for all parents to address with their children is sexuality. Sexuality education is vitally important for individuals with autism because it specifically addresses “personal safety and self-knowledge”. Individuals with developmental delays, unfortunately, are at a higher risk for abuse which makes this one of the topics of education which should not be avoided. Dr. Peter Gerhardt suggests that sexuality education should include instruction on basic fasts and safety, individual values and social competence. He expands upon this idea in the toolkit and identifies specific topics such as public restroom use, using adult terminology, personal privacy and those who can assist with personal issues, locations in which nudity is acceptable, and personal space of self and others.
What questions do you have about health-related transition issues?