looking out from a cave

Identity Content and Clarity in Individuals with High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in older adulthood lags behind that investigating ASD in other age groups This is particularly concerning to our rapidly aging society as epidemiological work suggests that prevalence rates of ASD in adulthood are substantial and similar to rates seen in children (Brugha et al., 2011). My work aims to assess ASD characteristics in older adults and determine how survey-based ASD characteristics relate to ASD diagnosis and optimal aging in older adults with ASD. Further, my research leverages evidence from the field of personality psychology to identify potential reasons why individuals with ASD are at particular risk for poor aging trajectories. My meta-analytic research with my colleague Jonathan Rodgers and the team at the Canisius College Institute for Autism Research demonstrates that ASD is related to lower mean-levels of Big Five personality traits (Lodi-Smith et al., under review). Given my research in social investment that suggests individuals who approach social changes in late life with less engagement and less clarity evidence less functional personality trait maturation (Lodi-Smith & Roberts, 2012; Lodi-Smith et al., 2017), older adults with ASD may be at particular risk for unhealthy trait trajectories. However, with the paucity of data available on older adults with ASD in general and on the association of personality and ASD in late life in particular, my research is currently focused on establish the viability of personality as an important factor in ASD and aging through replicating the relationship between personality traits and ASD and personality traits and aging in an sample of older adults with ASD, elevated ASD characteristics, and matched neurotypical controls. My colleagues and I have begun to establish the relationship between personality and psychological well-being in the context of ASD (Rodgers et al., in press) and our R21 currently under review at NIA aims to continue this work. In doing so, this arm of my research has the potential to impact clinical practice by building on evidence from personality psychology to identify novel arenas for targeted support and interventions within the underserved and understudied population of older adults with ASD.