Ageing Well on the Autism Spectrum

About 1% of Australian adults are on the autism spectrum

Dr Ruth Williams (left), Academic Convenor of the Hallmark Ageing Research Initiative at the University of Melbourne, presenting Jane Hwang with the prize for best oral presentation at the Emerging Researchers in Ageing conference in Canberra on October 31st.

The 1% of Australian adults on the autism spectrum experience a range of difficulties in social interaction and communication and have restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviours or interests.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families experience unique and persistent challenges and support needs into later life. Despite this, we know very little about what ageing and adulthood is like for them. Recent models of ‘successful ageing’ (or ‘ageing well’) have not been inclusive of adults with disability from their conceptualisations as they only include ‘freedom from disability’ as part of their key criteria for ageing well.  Consequently, these models have limited applicability for any adult with lifelong disability.

Jane Hwang from the University of New South Wales is conducting her PhD research which aims to explore and define the concept of ageing well for autistic adults (25 years and older) in Australia. Her investigation includes obtaining the perspectives of autistic adults and their carers regarding what it means to ‘age well’ as an autistic adult. Jane will also collect comprehensive health and wellbeing data via the Australian Longitudinal Study of Adults with Autism (ALSAA), and explore mortality and cause of death through NSW state-based linked data.

To date, Jane and her team have found that existing models of ageing well are unsuitable for this population and that for autistic adults and their carers, ageing well is a multidimensional concept that encompasses the individual, their life, the world in which they live and the relational issues connecting these domains. They have found both similarities and differences between autistic adults and the general population in their perspectives of what ‘ageing well’ means. Importantly, both person- and environment-level factors are important to consider in whether the disability of autism itself is considered a hindrance to ageing well.

[Source: Jane Hwang is a PhD student at the University of New South Wales. If you would like to contact her about her research, please email her on]