Can Autism progress with age? Autism Spectrum Disorder is a psychological and developmental condition. It cannot progress, unlike other neurological or neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or Parkinson’s.
Can Autism Become Worse With Age? Psychologists and doctors believe that whatever the severity and symptoms are at the time of Autism Diagnosis, they will continue to be consistent throughout the person’s lifetime.
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However, long-term studies following the case of specific affected individuals throughout their lifetime will be needed to prove this. Such studies have been very limited due to the financial and time resources they require.
Can Autism Progress With Age? What do the Studies Say?
Fortunately, the few studies investigating the progress of Autism have collected enough data to help us understand Autism and its progress of symptoms more clearly.
One study found that contrary to popular belief, Autism symptoms do not remain consistent at every stage of life. Changes, both progressive and regressive, are highly common among young children.
Another study found that girls are more likely to show decreased symptoms, whereas boys exhibit increased symptoms as they reach adulthood. However, it is not always the case, the progression of Autism is highly unlikely, and more than half of cases remain consistent.
Keep reading to learn about the various ways Autism can progress and the probability of such progression.
How does Autism Progress in Early Life?
A 2020 study investigated the trajectory of autism symptoms through the ages 3 to 6. The researchers observed the severity of symptoms at each stage of their development and found very imbalanced results across the participants.
The study found that more than 16 percent of the participants exhibited heightened severity of symptoms, including worsening IQ and Adaptive Functioning.
Fortunately, the number is very low and was not linked to the natural progression of the disorder. Another positive finding was that regression cases were higher (28.8 percent) than that of progression. Because more than 54 percent of children remained unaffected throughout the three years of study, it’s safe to believe that both progression and regression are relatively unlikely.
Autism Progression In Pre-teens
The same 2020 study was taken a step further in 2022, investigating the trajectory pattern through ages 3-11. The study includes 182 autistic children who were rated against medically approved change scores and the Change index.
This time the results were different, with an increase in progressive cases. Only 49 percent of autistic children had consistent symptoms throughout their ages.
Twenty-four percent of the cases showed progressive cases, with the change becoming more noticeable during middle childhood. Another interesting finding involved the pattern and speed of progression. Most children with a progressive case did not go through gradual changes over time.
Instead, they exhibited sudden significant changes at one period, which remained consistent later on. Further analysis showed that the progress did not result from a natural cause but due to insufficient parental knowledge and inadequate intervention by parents.
Higher education levels and older age of parents were strongly linked to a decrease in symptom severity. This should be enough evidence to believe that Autism is a highly manageable disorder and an intensive support system can turn around its severity and impact on a child’s later stages of life.
Autism Progression In adulthood
Despite being a common topic of interest since the 1940s, Autism is still a relatively uncertain topic when it comes to progression. Finding data related to progression and regression can be harder than collecting data at a certain period.
Most adults in 2022 were not diagnosed with Autism in their childhood but became aware at later stages of life. This creates a huge challenge in measuring how their condition may have progressed and changed during adulthood.
While probability and severity of change in symptoms cannot be definitively measured, there is still ample anecdotal evidence on the progression in Adults.
Experts estimate that the condition will typically become harder to deal with as the brains become less adaptable to behavioral therapies.
Autistic adults who have become accustomed to their social habits, emotional state, and lifestyle will find it hard to make a sudden change in their lives.
One study focusing on adults (over 18) with a recently diagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder found that symptoms typically became worse. Increased socializing, communication, and imagination difficulty was strongly linked to increasing age.
The study included 100 participants who were tracked over decades to find a trajectory pattern. It also found that each decade, the tendency to extract patterns and rules in activities also increased. This meant that affected adults had a preference for organization and a predictable system to relate the overall activity to.
There is still a lot of hope for the current generation of children with Autism. The increased awareness, access to trained teachers, and necessary well-child visits have made early diagnosis and intervention easier.
How Symptoms Change over Lifetime
While the direction of trajectory and severity of it cannot be predicted, the changes in symptoms are easily predictable.
In the early stages, the symptoms typically include delayed language skills, lack of facial expressions, and recognition. As a child enters middle childhood, their symptoms may shift to interaction and socialization problems. They may face serious difficulty making friends and communicating with other children their age.
Adults with Autism have usually outgrown such symptoms and face difficulties in typically organizational, self-determination, and emotional regulation domains. While they still struggle with forming and maintaining friendships, communicating effectively, and understanding others’ emotions, they learn to navigate these problems to some extent.
Early childhood is the key development stage of every individual. A child’s brain is highly adaptable at this stage, making it the best time to introduce new learning, coping, and behavioral strategies.
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There is ample evidence that Autism is a highly manageable condition. Its severity can be minimized with parental education and comprehensive intervention. Parents, guardians, and affected adults should not worry about progression too much.
The probability of the condition worsening is very low, especially beyond early childhood. Moreover, there is no evidence to support that
Autism can become worse on its own. The main problems are absent or lack of intervention, low parental education, and mismanagement of conditions.
Hi. This is me Hira Naz. I am becoming a clinical psychologist. I am done with my majors and doing some diplomas to pursue my career in counseling. Along with Psychology, I am pursuing my passion for writing. I have been a freelance writer for the past 5 years. Currently, I am writing for this site and providing all the necessary insights to help and advise the elderly and disabled.