Aging with Autism

aging-manThe state of Utah has one of the highest rates of autism in the country. In fact, the numbers show, one out of every 133 children has the disorder. But often what we don’t report is the challenges that families with adult autistic children face. For the past 44-years, Mary Paulsen has done, what any good mother would do, with great love. She has taken good care of her son Philip. He is a grown man who enjoys simple tasks and lives every day of his life, with autism.

Born in the 1960’s, Philip grew up in an era, when doctors knew very little about autism. In fact, many in the medical community believed children with autism where schizophrenic or the result of poor parenting. “And the professional beat me up royally,” says Phillip’s mother Mary. “I was the bad mother, the refrigerator mother. What on earth was I doing to this kid? And I said ‘I wish I knew’.”

As a result, Phillip would go through life with no specific training, and no specific help for his disorder. His social skills were poor, and verbally, it was even worse. “He’s very smart, he’s very savvy,” said Mary. “He can do things that are so crazy, you can’t believe it.” Mary Paulsen also tells us Phillip ran away as a child. One time, he even ran out into the orchard and ate rat poison.

Researchers say autism still remains a complicated disorder. Dr. Megan Farley has studied autism for nearly eight years. She says finding a cause or a cure for the disorder has been a challenge. However, educational treatment has come a long way. With early intervention, those with autism can live a normal life. Just ask the family of Matthew Fairchild. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4, and has made great progress according to his mother, Karen. “He’s very high functioning in a lot of ways. He’s very intelligent. His biggest deficit is being able to use expressive language.

Early on, Matthew was enrolled at the Carmen B. Pingree School for children with autism. There he was taught by specially trained teachers. “He really learned how to learn there,” said Karen Fairchild. “Before then, he was only learning what he cared about.” Matthew now holds a job at the Orem City Library and in many ways has become independent. A very different scenario from that of Phillip, who in reality, can never be left alone. The families of both Phillip and Matthew have legal guardianship over the men. Phillip is currently living in a group home. Matthew lives with his parents in Utah County.


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