Social outcomes in mid- to later adulthood among individuals diagnosed with autism and average nonverbal IQ as children

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013 Jun;52(6):572-81.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.02.017. Epub 2013 Apr 24.


Objective: To describe current social functioning in a clinical sample of 60 adults with autism (mean age = 44 years) who were all of average nonverbal IQ (70+) when first diagnosed (mean age = 6.75 years).

Method: Outcome measures included standardized diagnostic and cognitive assessments and questionnaires on social functioning. Child and adult variables related to current outcomes were explored.

Results: All individuals continued to meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), but severity of autism symptoms declined over time. Nevertheless, only 10 individuals (17%) were rated as having a "good" or "very good" outcome; the majority (60%) were assessed as having "poor" or "very poor" outcomes. The strongest predictor of adult outcome was the Reciprocal Social Interaction domain score on the ADI at diagnostic confirmation. Change over time was further examined in a subgroup (n = 44) previously assessed 20 years ago earlier (mean age = 26 years). Although severity of autism had continued to decrease during the adult period, social outcomes were poorer than in younger adulthood.

Conclusions: In this cohort of adults first diagnosed with autism, on average, 37 years previously, social inclusion remains very limited, despite general improvements in autism symptomatology with age. Whether these findings will be replicated in future generations of children with autism, who now have the benefits of earlier diagnosis and wider access to specialist provision, needs to be the focus of further longitudinal research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Social Behavior*