Ageing on the autism spectrum: A 4-year follow-up study of mental health and quality of life in autistic adults
Background: Poor mental health is known to adversely affect functional abilities, social isolation and quality of life (QoL). It is, therefore, crucial to consider the long-term impacts of mental health conditions as autistic adults grow older. Objectives: Our objectives were to understand the extent of: (i) autistic traits, co-occurring physical and mental health conditions; (ii) age-related differences in those conditions; and (iii) their impact on everyday living and QoL. Method: Fifty-two autistic adults (aged 18-79 years) participated in the first study (T1); 28 took part in a follow-up at T2 (mean retest interval 2.5 years). Standardised self-report measures of autistic traits, mental health and QoL were completed at both time points. Results: Over half of autistic adults experienced at least one co-occurring condition, and over a third met the criteria for 3+ conditions. Depression symptoms were particularly high in autistic women. Mental and physical health problems were related to autistic traits, difficulties in everyday life, and were a strong and consistent predictor of poor QoL (T1; T2) across the lifespan. Conclusion: Our findings highlighted that mental health difficulties persisted into older age and did not reduce over time. Together, these findings raise important questions about mental health provision in adult autism.