Cognitive, language, social and behavioural outcomes in adults with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review of longitudinal follow-up studies in adulthood

Clin Psychol Rev. 2014 Feb;34(1):73-86. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2013.11.002. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


Background: Although increasing numbers of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are now entering adolescence and adulthood, there is limited research on outcomes post childhood. A systematic review of the existing literature was conducted.

Method: PsycINFO, PubMed, MedLine and CINAHL were systematically searched using keywords related to ASD and adolescent and adult outcomes. Studies of individuals diagnosed with ASD in childhood and followed up into adulthood were identified and reviewed. Only studies with samples sizes >10, mean age at outcome >16 years and at least one previous assessment in childhood (<16 years) were included.

Results: Twenty-five studies meeting criteria were identified. Reported outcomes in adulthood were highly variable across studies. Although social functioning, cognitive ability and language skills remained relatively stable in some studies, others reported deterioration over time. Adaptive functioning tended to improve in most studies. Diagnosis of autism or ASD was generally stable, although severity of autism-related behavioural symptoms was often reported to improve. Childhood IQ and early language ability appeared to be the strongest predictors of later outcome, but few studies examined other early variables associated with adult functioning.

Discussion: Implications of the findings are discussed in relation to methodological challenges in longitudinal outcome research and future research directions.

Keywords: Adolescent; Adult; Autism spectrum disorders; Follow-up; Longitudinal; Outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Cognition*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Language*
  • Social Adjustment*