Can Autism Develop at Any Age? An Expert's Perspective

Older children, adolescents, and adults do not develop autism. In fact, to qualify for an autism spectrum diagnosis, you must have symptoms that appear during early childhood. This means that the consensus is no, autism cannot develop in adolescence or adulthood. However, it is common for girls and people with high-functioning autism to be overlooked when they are young.

Because they are not accurately diagnosed, it may lead some people to believe that they developed autism as they matured.Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that begins in early childhood and eventually causes problems functioning in society, at school and at work. Often, children show symptoms of autism during the first year. A small number of children appear to develop normally during the first year, and then go through a period of regression between 18 and 24 months of age when they develop symptoms of autism. We know that there is no single cause for autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and non-genetic or environmental influences.

Diagnosing ASD can be difficult, as there is no medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors observe the behavior and development of the child to make a diagnosis. Sometimes ASD can be detected at 18 months of age or younger. At 2 years old, a diagnosis made by an experienced professional can be considered reliable.1 However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they are much older. Some people aren't diagnosed until they're teenagers or adults.

This delay means that people with ASD may not get the early help they need. A diagnosis of autism is an important turning point in a long journey to understand your child's world. Although autism does not develop so much in older children or adults, it can still be diagnosed in those cases where an adequate diagnosis was not received when they were younger. Many parents aren't aware of these early signs of autism and don't start thinking about it until their children start talking at a normal age. Most children with autism are not diagnosed until after age 3, although health care providers can often see developmental problems before that age. Half of children with late diagnosis scored well below the limit for a diagnosis of autism at age 3, but their scores increased significantly between 5 and 9 years of age.2 In that study, 221 of the 2867 children with autism were diagnosed with autism after age 6, despite having had previous evaluations. Generations of girls who are not diagnosed with autism because they did not fit the model of how autistic children were expected to behave have been overlooked.

One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism and become familiar with the typical developmental milestones your child must achieve. Studies show that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with ASD. This is mainly because the earlier the intervention, the easier it will be for patients, parents and therapists to compensate for problematic developments in the brain. Since autism is most often diagnosed in boys, doctors are more likely to overlook a diagnosis in girls. If one parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they may pass them on to a child (even if the parent does not have autism).A diagnosis of autism is an important turning point in a long journey to understand your child's world.

Early intervention is key for helping those with ASD reach their full potential and live happy and fulfilling lives.

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