Do the symptoms of autism change over time?

A person with autism will always have impairments in cognitive, social, and behavioral function. However, these symptoms can change with time, getting better or worse. Frequent follow-up with a primary care physician can allow for earlier intervention and hopefully a better outcome.

While the core symptom domains of autism (social relatedness, communication, repetitive behaviors/restricted interests) persist over time, the actual symptom presentation may vary over time. For example, early deficits in social relatedness might present as delayed play skills, but in adolescents might present as impaired theory of mind (perspective taking). 

William Stillman
Health Education Specialist

Much of the answer to this question lies with how aggressively parents have pursued an autism diagnosis (the earlier the better) and have accessed the Early Intervention service system. With a proper understanding of your child's needs and talents, and a program of therapies tailored to meet your family's needs, your child's symptoms of autism can become less noticeable.

Additionally, there have been some children diagnosed autistic who later had the diagnosis withdrawn for making academic or social improvements. Some adults with autism have had the time and patience to "make peace" with their autism such that they are better able to assimilate with the world (for certain durations) better than they would have as children.

For many children, symptoms of autism improve with treatment and with age. Children whose language skills regress early in life-before the age of three-appear to have a higher than normal risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. During adolescence, some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may become depressed or experience behavioral problems, and their treatment may need some modification as they transition to adulthood. People with ASD usually continue to need services and support as they grow older, but many are able to work successfully and live independently or within a supportive environment.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist
Different research published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is showing that early treatment does change the symptoms of autism.  Many of the findings are extremely hopeful.  For some people, it is helpful to think about how a person who has sustained some type of brain injury enters therapy to learn how to function again.  Although many things are not understood, the brain has the ability to grow and develop.  This is why early intervention with autism is so important. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.