Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum in Adolescence & Adulthood: What to expect

Autism Spectrum Disorders is generally a life-long condition for many affected individuals (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The research and knowledge of autism is well studied and applied in children settings. In the case of adults, there is not much research and treatment available yet. Moreover, there is very limited evidence that suggest changes in ASD symptoms across the life course. This short article is covers changes in symptoms of ASD observed during adolescence and adulthood.

To begin with autism in adolescence, it has been observed in research studies that childhood sleep problems may persist. Also, there is an increased risk for onset of seizures in the teen years. Although, there is no significant change observed for anxiety (Baker et al, 2013). Furthermore, high-functioning adolescents with autism tend to show greater improvement in cognitive abilities and social interaction skills. This isn’t the case in low-functioning individuals with autism.

Hence, early interventions for cognitive abilities will also help in the development of social skills as they mature into adolescence & adulthood (Smith et al, 2012). As they enter adulthood, social engagement with peers in school can improve adaptive behavior skills. This is true even when intelligence level is constrained (McGovern & Sigman, 2005).

As compared to autistic children, adults have fewer repetitive behaviors, dysfunctional behaviors, less hyperactivity and irritability. Improvement in daily life skills such as dressing up, keeping track of money, making a quick meal is also observed. This improvement, however, plateaus during their late 20s.

Parents have also described improvements in repetitive/stereotyped behaviors, adaptive behaviors, and emotional responsiveness to others distress in adolescence and adulthood as compared to childhood (Shuttack et al, 2006).

We can, thus, conclude that autistic adults can witness improvement observed in daily living skills, hyperactivity, repetitive/stereotyped behavior and emotional responsiveness. Although, it is important to note that individuals on the severe end of the spectrum may not adapt to these changes that easily, especially in terms of social interaction. Therefore, interventions, such as ABA Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Sensory Integration, that focus on cognitive improvement and peer engagement, can influence social interaction and adaptive behavior skills in the future.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 4. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000. text revision, (4th-TR edn.)

Shea V, Mesibov G. Adolescents and adults with autism. In: Volkmar FR, Paul R, Klin A, Cohen DJ, editors. Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons; 2005.

Continuity and change from early childhood to adolescence in autism. McGovern CW, Sigman M J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Apr; 46(4):401-8.

Baker, E., Richdale, A., Short, M. & Gradisar, M. (2013) An investigation of sleep patterns in adolescents with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder compared with typically developing adolescents. Dev Neurorehabil. 2013 Jun;16(3):155-65.

Smith, L.E., Maenner, M.J. & Seltzer, M.M. (2012) Developmental trajectories in adolescents and adults with autism: the case of daily living skills. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Jun;51(6):622-31.

Tonge BJ, Einfeld S. Psychopathology and intellectual disability: The Australian child to adult longitudinal study. International Review of Research in Mental Retardation. 2003;26:61–91.

Shattuck, P. T., Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Orsmond, G. I., Bolt, D., Kring, S., . . . Lord, C. (2006). Change in Autism Symptoms and Maladaptive Behaviors in Adolescents and Adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders,37(9), 1735-1747. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0307-7

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