Jiménez Navarro: “people with autism will continue to need help into adulthood”
On the opening day of the Adeje Summer University (UVA) Pedro Manuel Jiménez Navarro, a psychology major from the University of Salamanca, said it was important to increase the amount of resources available for people on the autism spectrum, not simply in terms of primary care but also in education, and into adulthood, because, he says, these individuals will continue to need help. “In Tenerife there are some existing resources, but they are in heavy demand and with a decreasing number of places, and I don’t see any plan in evidence to work with these people when they are finished schooling, when they are in their 20, and I see families unsure what the future holds for them”.
Jiménez Navarro was giving a lecture as part of the UVA course in Autism, learning difficulties and ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder); resources for teachers and families. “There is a lot to be done”, he says.
The lecturer has been working on a new tool designed to evaluate intellectual disability, which is part of his work for his doctoral thesis. The assessment tool is based on a model designed by the American Society for Intellectual Disability, adapted to meet the situation here in Spain, and he has been working with a group of 250 people with autism and 50 more who have Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition considered a milder form of autism. He believes this evaluation tool will be very important in the coming years – it is still in its infancy as a working model and primary results are not yet officially published, but that will happen over the coming years, he says.
Jiménez Navarro, while acknowledging there are existing tools to detect and grade this form of intellectual disability and those with learning challenges, he says that specialised attention should begin at a much younger age, ideally for pre-school children with health care services taking responsibility. Asperger’s Syndrome, as it is a milder form, is often harder to detect and might not appear until a child is 5 or 6 years old.
“What is very obvious, as a result of the studies I have carried out for my thesis, is that the majority of those people on the autism spectrum need a level of attention that they are currently not receiving, fundamentally from the education authorities”, he has commented. The help needed would include education in daily life habits to improving learning skills, developing social skills, and helping individuals integrate more. In general, help is needed to allow these individuals “develop the highest level of independence possible into their adult lives!”
Jiménez reminded his students that autism doesn’t have a cure, so emphasis must be on improving a person’s ability to live with the condition. “There are people with Asperger’s who live a relatively normal life, they work, marry, have a family. And there are others who do not have such a life as their immediate environment does not properly understand their social and emotional difficulties”.