Adult spectrum disorders (ASD) affect more than one million Americans. While science is beginning to catch on to the early symptoms of autism in children, many cases go unnoticed until someone enters the adult phase of life.
Anne Carpenter, 56, of Ann Arbor, Michigan was one of the cases, having been misdiagnosed for years until doctors recognized she had the signs of autism as an adult. Carpenter is currently a librarian and information and referral specialist at the Autism Society of Michigan and was gracious enough to share her story with us.
eVitamins: Did you have any complications as a child which could have been diagnosed as autism?
Anne Carpenter: I grew up as a child who was affected by my mother's German Measles during pregnancy. I had to have my lenses removed and a heart valve fixed, but was then found to have other problems. I was very hyperactive and had a great deal of difficulty with sleeping. I had different labels, such as "partially-sighted," "emotionally disturbed," "multiply handicapped," organic brain syndrome (OBS), borderline personality disorder and finally, autism.
eVitamins: When were you diagnosed as autistic? How did you react to the diagnosis?
AC: At the age of 30, I was finally given the correct diagnosis. I didn't fit the picture of classic autism, so I threw people for a loop and no one was sure what was going on with me. But the diagnosis changed my life and I went about working on myself so I could continue to learn, grow and make progress.
eVitamins: What help is available for those with adult autism?
AC: At this time, there is more interest in autism in adults, but the supports aren't in place as they are for younger children. In Michigan, Person-Centered Planning (where one gets help with formulating a plan for further education or employment based on their skills and strengths) is mandated through Michigan's Mental Health Code. Vocational Rehabilitation Services can help with finding employment and an adult with ASD can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income. I used a combination of the above methods and I have found things seem to get better all the time.
eVitamins: Have you hit any sort of roadblocks along the way?
AC: I have continually tried to work on myself, to improve my social skills and my capabilities, but the obstacles remain. One can't learn over a certain amount with SSDI or SSI, so finding employment is even more difficult. To complicate matters, autism in adults isn't fully understood to the point employers are still not sure how to support adults with ASD.
eVitamins: Could you tell us a little bit about what your organization does and how it's assisting those diagnosed with autism?
AC: The Autism Society of Michigan is an education and advocacy organization which assists parents and professionals through telephone and online information and referral. We have a lending library of books on ASD and related topics and we conduct a series of workshops in the fall and spring with an annual conference taking place in the spring. The Autism Society of Michigan recognizes the fact autism occurs in a spectrum, with varying degrees of severity; each person with ASD is totally unique, like a snowflake.
eVitamins: What is currently believed to be the most effective treatment? Are there any breakthroughs your group is excited about?
AC: Because the brain is so complex, it’s hard to pin down any one method or treatment. A person with ASD can learn to find ways to work around. It's now thought the brain is plastic and malleable throughout the lifespan, which refutes previous thoughts of this being the case only in early childhood.
eVitamins: How does one support a person with ASD?
AC: One's family can help the person with ASD to find ways to work around the difficulties which ASD presents, such as difficulties with sensory processing and picking up subtle social cues. They can also help him or her find resources for finding employment, based on skills and strengths. They have the ability to help their loved one to develop his fullest potential, so he can be his "best and highest self."
For more information on autism and National Autism Awareness Month, explore the eVitamins blog as well as the Autism Society of Michigan website. While the events and fundraisers are all Michigan based, the Autism Society of Michigan is more than happy to assist or connect those from outside the state.