New Research Examines Symptoms of Autism Throughout Midlife and Beyond

November 20, 2023

Findings Show that Those without ID Had an Accelerated Set of Challenges in Later Years

New research from the University of Wisconsin used an accelerated longitudinal design to estimate age-related trajectories over a 60-year period for a large community-based sample of individuals on the spectrum. Unlike most studies that track autism trajectories over childhood, this study describes changes in autism symptoms, behavioral functioning, and health measured over 22 years into midlife and early old age. The study analyzed if these trajectories differed between those who have intellectual disability (ID) and those who have average or above-average intelligence. The results showed that most autism symptoms improved through adulthood while health worsened. Different measures manifested different patterns, with an inverted U-shaped curve best-describing change for repetitive behavior symptoms, activities of daily living, maladaptive behaviors, and social interaction. Individuals with and without ID showed differences in their aging years. Surprisingly, while those with ID had poorer levels of functioning, the study revealed that those without ID faced an accelerating set of challenges in their aging years, including an increase in medications for physical health problems and worsening repetitive behaviors. The authors conclude that meeting the needs of the increasingly large population of adults with autism in midlife and old age requires a nuanced understanding of life course trajectories across the long stretch of adulthood and multiple domains. 

Original Study

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