As a parent, receiving the news that your child has been diagnosed with autism can be overwhelming. It is completely understandable to feel anxious. One of the most common questions parents have is whether or not autism changes with age. Will their child’s behaviors evolve? Will they outgrow their symptoms?

In this blog post, we will examine various aspects of autism and how it may change through different stages of life, providing valuable insights and guidance for parents in understanding their child’s unique journey with this developmental disorder. While there currently is no cure for autism, the medical community has learned much more about the disorder, uncovered some life-changing therapies, and found glimmers of hope in some recent studies.

How early can autism be diagnosed?

According to the CDC, the average age for an autism diagnosis is around four and a half. However, children as young as 18 months may show signs that parents can recognize. Here are some early warning signs of autism that parents of very young children should know, including:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Not responding to their name when called
  • Developmental delays

Children are typically screened for signs of autism during well-child visits. Early intervention is critical, and sometimes symptoms improve. No two children are alike: Some show signs of autism within the first 12 months of life, while others may not until 24 months. Some gain new skills and meet developmental milestones around 18 to 24 months and then gradually lose them.

Diagnosing autism can be challenging since there is no medical test like a blood test. Doctors observe the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis. A diagnosis is considered reliable by age two, but many children don’t receive a final diagnosis until they are much older—some even when they are adolescents or adults.

Can children outgrow autism?

Many parents wonder if their child might outgrow the disorder. According to a study by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers, more than a third of toddlers with a diagnosis outgrew it by the time they reached six years old. The study included 213 children diagnosed with autism between the ages of one and three, 83% of whom were boys. All of the children received intervention, most commonly Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a therapy that focuses on increasing helpful behaviors.

The children were re-evaluated later, and by the time they reached age six, 37% no longer met the criteria for autism. Those outgrowing the disorder were more likely to be female or have what researchers called “higher baseline adaptive functioning” when it came to everyday skills like communication, self-care and more. According to Science Daily, one theory as to why girls seem to drop their autism label may be a greater aptitude for “camouflaging” outward signs of autism.

Does autism change with age?

Research shows that children who receive early intervention are more likely to outgrow the autism label due to improvements in behaviors such as social skills. In fact, according to the non-profit group Spectrum, a long-term study followed about 300 children from age 2 to 21 and found that 10% of children improved dramatically by their mid-teens while another 80% stayed the same.

However, just because your child outgrows the label doesn’t mean they no longer have diagnoses that require ongoing treatment. Many children who lose their autism diagnosis still grapple with significant mental health issues like anxiety and ADHD — and other physical symptoms — into adolescence and adulthood.

According to the CDC, adolescents identified as having autism at ages two through five show a much greater likelihood of having physical difficulties into adolescence (21% vs. 2% for the control group) and additional mental health conditions (63% versus 29%), with the two most common conditions being ADHD (40% vs. 16%) and anxiety (36% vs. 16%).



Aging with autism

Autism does not necessarily get worse with age; however, symptoms can change over time, and some clients may experience new challenges as they get older. For example, some teens with autism may struggle to form relationships, find employment and suffer from feelings of isolation and anxiety. Some may find it harder to tolerate loud noises, crowded spaces, bright lights or strong smells.

The key to aging with autism is support from family, friends and professionals. Some adults with autism may benefit from therapy, medication, vocational training and other interventions.

Stress, lack of support and care for autism can worsen associated physical symptoms like sleep disorders, gastrointestinal problems or seizures. These symptoms can worsen if left unsupported or untreated. Compared to adolescents without an autism diagnosis, the CDC reports that those with autism were 90% more likely to have additional mental health or other conditions and three times more likely to have an unmet healthcare need. For these reasons, early intervention is crucial.


Advances in autism care

One of the most promising ways to improve autism outcomes is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. Clients work directly with a trained professional called a registered behavior technician (RBT), who works with the individual to support learning skills that comprise daily living, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed and making a meal. ABA therapy also focuses on helping to reduce challenging behaviors and building social skills.

While there is no cure for autism, early intervention and ongoing treatment to care for autism are crucial for managing symptoms and ensuring the best outcomes.

Maxim Healthcare Services provides ABA services to children. To learn more about the services available near you, visit our locations page.