Your Child on the Autism Spectrum: What the Future Holds

*** Prognosis ***

There is some evidence that kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) may see a lessening of symptoms as they mature. Up to 20% of kids may no longer meet the diagnostic criteria as grown-ups, although social and communication difficulties may persist.

People with HFA appear to have normal life expectancy, but have an increased prevalence of comorbid psychiatric conditions (e.g., major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder) that may significantly affect prognosis.

Although social impairment is life-long, the outcome is generally more positive than for people with lower functioning autism spectrum disorders. For example, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) symptoms are more likely to diminish with time in kids on the high functioning end of autism. 
Although most students with the disorder have average mathematical ability and test slightly worse in mathematics than in general intelligence, some are gifted in mathematics. HFA has not prevented some grown-ups from major accomplishments such as winning the Nobel Prize.

Kids on the spectrum may require special education services because of their social and behavioral difficulties, although many attend regular education classes. Teens with the disorder may exhibit ongoing difficulty with self care, organization and disturbances in social and romantic relationships. Despite high cognitive potential, most young adults with HFA remain at home, although some do marry and work independently.

Anxiety may stem from (a) preoccupation over possible violations of routines and rituals, (b) being placed in a situation without a clear schedule or expectations, or (c) concern with failing in social encounters. The resulting stress may manifest as inattention, withdrawal, reliance on obsessions, hyperactivity, or aggressive or oppositional behavior.

Depression is often the result of (a) chronic frustration from repeated failure to engage others socially, and (b) mood disorders requiring treatment may develop. Clinical experience suggests the rate of suicide may be higher among teens on the autism spectrum, but this has not been confirmed by systematic empirical studies.

Education of families is critical in developing strategies for understanding strengths and weaknesses. Helping the family to cope improves outcomes in these young people. Prognosis may be improved by diagnosis at a younger age that allows for early interventions, while interventions in adulthood are valuable, but less beneficial.

As one parent stated, "I keep telling my 7 year old that things may be more difficult for him than other kids but he is smarter than his brain (the best way i can describe it at his age) and that he can train his brain to over come most any obstacle. i truly believe that this is possible with a lot of hard work."

More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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