Can autism get worse?

Samir Kadri
Author: Samir Kadri Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong, neurodevelopment disorder. Autism symptoms typically begin to show during the first 24 months of a child’s life. It impairs an affected individual’s communication and social interactions, making it hard for them to empathize with others and form relationships.

Autism does not necessarily worsen over time, but symptoms can change following a person’s diagnosis. A child can be meeting pre-set developmental targets but then regress or stop acquiring new skills. 

On the other hand, research found that 30% of young children with autism spectrum disorder had less severe symptoms at age 6 than they did at age 3, with some children losing their diagnoses completely. [1]

While it is not currently possible to forecast whose symptoms will worsen and whose will improve, having dedicated treatment plans in place are essential to managing symptoms of autism.

What are the treatments for autism?

There is no one standard treatment for ASD, but there are a range of therapies and measures you can take to minimize symptoms.

Individuals with autism can have the best chance of reducing symptoms and maximising their abilities if they commit to a treatment plan. The effectiveness of each treatment varies from person to person. It is advised to intervene as early as possible after your child’s autism diagnosis to allow for time to assess the effectiveness of different treatment options. [2]

Below is a list of some different treatments for ASD [2].

  • Behavioral management therapy
  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Early intervention
  • Educational and school-based therapies
  • Joint attention therapy
  • Medication treatment
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Parent-mediated therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Social skills training
  • Speech-language therapy

Does untreated autism worsen over time?

Autism does not change or worsen as someone gets older. However, if autism is left untreated, either because it is not discovered or it is ignored, symptoms can worsen over time.

For example, if an autistic individual doesn’t learn techniques to control impulsive behavior or communicate with others, they may have learning and speech difficulties, struggle to form professional or social relationships, and take care of themselves.

Autism research shows that early diagnosis and treatment before the age of 2 gives a child with ASD the best chance of manging symptoms. However, anyone with ASD can benefit from treatment irrespective of age. [2]

People of all ages, regardless of the severity of their symptoms, can improve with tailor-made, well-executed treatment plans. [2]

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder all experience different symptoms with varying degrees of severity, so there isn’t one treatment option that works for everyone. Caregivers and trained mental health professionals collaborate to assess an affected person’s needs and discover what treatment works best for them.

Resources
  1. Autism severity can change substantially during early childhood. (2020, May 28). https://health.ucdavis.edu/news/headlines/autism-severity-can-change-substantially-during-early-childhood/2020/05
  2. What are the treatments for autism?(2021, April 19). https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments
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Samir Kadri
Author Samir Kadri Writer

Samir Kadri serves as our accomplished writer, dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and providing support to those in need.

Published: Jun 16th 2023, Last edited: Oct 27th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Meet Morgan Blair, our accomplished medical reviewer. Morgan is a licensed therapist with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jun 16th 2023