WHEP Scholar Alexis Matarangas
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and co-occurring intellectual disability will need more services and social supports than the average person throughout their lifetime, especially during the transition into adulthood which has the potential to be a more turbulent time. These needed supports include services such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work, case management, transportation, mental health services, diagnostic medical services, and assistive devices among others that work to improve overall care and everyday functioning.
However, despite this apparent need, many individuals experience what is called "The Service Cliff" as they reach their early 20s in which all services appear to suddenly "drop off" in their availability to individuals on the spectrum. Individuals with ASD are not only facing the challenges of transitioning to adulthood as everyone else does, but they are facing this transition in addition to added cognitive and social deficits without the services they need. This struggle to transition becomes amplified within the healthcare system as the current adult system has not been adequately built to meet the needs of these individuals. Specifically, there are many barriers to quality healthcare at both a systems level in the way hospitals and practices are built and run; and at the individual level due to the inadequate training of physicians and other healthcare professionals regarding the specific needs of these individuals.
Given the growing prevalence and extensive needs of individuals with ASD that are aging into the adult system, it is paramount that adjustments be made to the infrastructure of adult medicine at all levels in order to provide better care for these individuals.