Study Reveals Autistic and Intellectually Disabled Adults Have Tripled Risk of Developing Parkinson’s-like Symptoms


In a groundbreaking study involving over a quarter of a million people, researchers have uncovered a startling connection between autism, intellectual disabilities, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Presented at the International Society for Autism Research’s annual meeting in Melbourne, Australia, this study has revealed that individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities are three times more likely to develop symptoms commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease compared to the general population.

This significant finding calls for a profound shift in how we approach the healthcare and aging of adults with autism and intellectual disabilities. Historically, autism was viewed predominantly as a childhood condition. However, as the diagnostic criteria have evolved and more adults are recognized as autistic, the need to understand the long-term health trajectories of these individuals has become more urgent.

The recent study, led by developmental neuropsychologist Gregory Wallace from George Washington University, emphasizes the necessity for proactive healthcare strategies. As autistic individuals age, it’s crucial that medical professionals are prepared to manage and possibly mitigate the progression of Parkinsonian symptoms, which include tremors, difficulty walking, and maintaining posture.

A critical aspect of the study was its size and scope. By reviewing medical records from 2014 to 2016 for 247,539 Americans aged 45 and older, the researchers were able to provide robust data, showing a prevalence of parkinsonism at rates much higher than the general population. For example, 5.98% of autistic individuals without intellectual disability were diagnosed with parkinsonism, as were 7.31% of those with both conditions.

Interestingly, these alarming rates persisted even after excluding participants who had taken medications known to induce Parkinsonian symptoms. This suggests that the observed increase in symptoms is not solely a side effect of treatment but may be inherent to the neurodevelopmental trajectories of these populations.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching. They not only highlight a potentially overlooked aspect of neurological health in autistic and intellectually disabled adults but also suggest that these conditions might share common genetic pathways with Parkinson’s disease, given previous studies linking autism to mutations in the PARK2 gene.

As researchers like Joseph Piven, a psychiatrist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, call for continued research, it becomes clear that our understanding of autism and intellectual disabilities must broaden to encompass the full lifespan of affected individuals. This includes investigating whether these populations experience parkinsonian symptoms earlier than others and determining the best screening practices to implement.

This study serves as a crucial wake-up call, underscoring the need for a holistic approach to the care of autistic and intellectually disabled adults. By anticipating potential health issues, providing timely interventions, and continuously adapting our understanding of these neurodiverse conditions, we can significantly improve the quality of life for these populations.

As research progresses, it is essential for policymakers, healthcare providers, and caregivers to integrate these insights into practice, ensuring that our healthcare system is ready to respond to the complex needs of autistic and intellectually disabled individuals as they age.

For more detailed insights and ongoing updates on this topic, stay tuned to, where we strive to bring you the latest and most comprehensive research findings in the world of science and health.

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