Tracking Autism From Child to Teenager

Autism symptoms may change as children become teenagers

(RxWiki News) People are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) during childhood.  New research looked at how symptoms may change as children age.

A recent study found that most children’s symptoms and diagnosis of ASD remained stable or improved from childhood into adolescence.

However, about one-third of children who had early symptoms of ASD progressed into full ASD by their teen years. Children with mild ASD symptoms may need additional assessment as they age.

"Talk to your psychologist about changes in your child’s symptoms."

Kristin Greaves-Lord, PhD, of Erasmus MC – Sophia Children’s Hospital in the Netherlands, and colleagues sought to understand how ASD may change as children grow into teens.

They started with 242 children, aged 6 to 12 years.  The children were assessed for ASD symptoms and 142 of them were diagnosed with ASD. The other 100 children had some symptoms of ASD but did not meet diagnostic criteria for ASD – called subclinical ASD.

After seven years, the children, who were now adolescents, were assessed again. Only 113 of the original ASD group were able to be reached.  Of the subclinical ASD group, only 57 of the 100 original participants were reached for follow-up assessment.

When the researchers compared the diagnosis and symptoms between the two time points, they found that 74 percent of the people with ASD had a stable diagnosis – it did not change over the seven years.  However, 26 percent of the children originally diagnosed with ASD showed improvement in symptoms and were classed as having subclinical ASD when they were teens.

For people who originally had subclinical ASD, 68 percent remained classed as subclinical ASD when they were teens. The remaining 32 percent of children originally classed as having subclinical ASD were moved to a full ASD diagnosis at the seven year follow up.

In summary, most children’s ASD symptoms and diagnosis remained stable from childhood into adolescence. 

However, about one-third of the children with milder ASD symptoms moved to full ASD diagnosis by adolescence.

The authors concluded, “It is important to re-evaluate the diagnosis of individuals who showed milder forms of ASD during childhood once they have reached adolescence.”

One limitation of this study is that almost half of the sub-clinical ASD group was unreachable during follow up, so a relatively small group of subclinical ASD patients were able to be tracked across the seven years of follow up.

This study was presented May 17, 2012 at the International Meeting for Autism Research in Toronto, Canada.

The research has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so it may not have had the chance to be inspected by other scientists to ensure that it meets scientific standards.

Review Date: 
June 3, 2012