Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition that is typically diagnosed in childhood. People who are diagnosed with autism sometimes have difficulties with social communication or restricted behaviours and interests. Autism can also affect attention and ways of learning. 

Technology has the potential to help people with autism live more autonomous lives, providing assistance with learning, communication and socialisation. Whilst older autistic adults have support needs that match or exceed those of similarly aged non-autistic individuals, the majority of research into autism has focused on younger cohorts with very little research focusing on older autistic adults over the age of 50.

Institute member Dr Lidan Zheng is lead author on a recent journal article that has included guidelines and recommendations for technology use for older autistic adults. The article is an output from Dr Zheng’s research project “The Autism ASSIST Project (Aiding and SuStaining Independence through Smart-home Technology)” – which was funded by a 2020 UNSW Ageing Futures Institute Seed Grant. The project brings together researchers from Psychology, Population Health, Engineering and the Arts to provide understanding of smart home technology use by older adults on the autism spectrum, specifically for the purpose of achieving independence in activities of daily living. 

“Before we start designing technological solutions for older autistic individuals, we need to look at their needs from a systemic, service provision and individual level. Upon interviewing older autistic adults, we found commonalities in facilitators and barriers to the use of everyday technologies amongst this group. Commonly used technologies often helped to address sensory needs, assisted with routine and organisation, streamlined disability claims, and supported daily cognitive, mental health and physical needs.” says Dr Zheng.

“This is the first time that researchers from such a wide range of disciplines have been brought together at UNSW for a project on the topic of autism. We are hoping that this research leads to the development of a translatable solution for the everyday challenges faced by older adults on the autism spectrum – who until recently are a group of individuals that have been often overlooked in both research and clinical practice.”

Read the full research publication here