Can Autism Get Better or Worse With Age?

Can Autism Get Better or Worse With Age

If you have a child or children, you may be wondering about their future. Whether they’re toddlers, starting primary school, or their HSC is right around the corner, parents never stop worrying about their kids! Their whole life is ahead of them, with all the possibilities waiting for them to take them. 

For parents of children with autism, this prospect may be even more daunting. They may be doing well now, but we can’t protect them from the world forever. It begs the question: Does autism get worse with age? 

This article looks at autism and how it may impact people throughout their lives. For personalised advice, contact our team at Chatterbox today.


What Does Autism Look Like?

Autism is a spectrum disorder, where it occurs on a spectrum rather than a straightforward scale. This means it may look very different for each person. The symptoms may look different from one person to another, and symptoms for one person may come and go throughout their life. 

It’s also important to note that as we age, our lives look different as we go through various stages. As a result, a child in school will often have other difficulties than an adult in their 30s. The problems may centre around the same things, such as socialisation, but show up differently at different stages of life.


How Autism May Affect Children

The way autism presents in children typically depends on their age, but not always. Generally speaking, infants will have many different symptoms than older children, but some symptoms may be the same regardless of age. 

Autism tends to affect many areas of a person’s life, including how they communicate and see and make sense of the world. Some common symptoms include:

  • Not meeting developmental milestones, such as speaking
  • Not following objects with their eyes
  • Becoming easily upset with changes in routine
  • Not using gestures such as waving
  • Difficulty recognising or understanding their feelings
  • Difficulty following verbal instructions
  • Lack of interest in or having difficulty making friends
  • Avoiding physical contact
  • Repeating words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Being sensory seeking (looking for things to touch, taste, etc.)
  • Being sensory avoidant (avoiding certain textiles, sounds, tastes, etc.)
  • Noticing patterns where others might not
  • Being very detail-oriented

How Autism May Affect Adults

In many ways, autism tends to affect adults in the same ways it does children. Many of the traits seen in autistic children are also present in autistic adults, though sometimes they may look slightly different. Some symptoms include:

  • Difficulty gaining employment
  • Difficulties at work, whether with colleagues, management, etc.
  • Difficulty making conversation
  • Difficulty making and keeping friends
  • Not using inflection while speaking or using a ‘robotic’ sounding voice
  • Not understanding sarcasm or idioms
  • Preferring to do solo activities such as reading
  • Difficulty understanding how others may be feeling
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as flapping their hands or jiggling their leg
  • Difficulty recognising facial expressions
  • Having special interests— an intense fascination with one or several topics
  • Being extremely sensitive to stimuli like lights and noise
  • Difficulty making eye contact

Can Autism Get Better or Worse With Age?

Autism doesn’t get better or worse with age. Instead, it fluctuates depending on many different factors. Some of these include:

1. Masking

In some ways, autism may affect people more or less than it used to. This may be due to many reasons, one of which is the concept of masking.

Masking is where an autistic person adopts a facade, or a ‘mask’, that they wear in public or when interacting with others. This may look like engaging in small talk when they don’t want to, adjusting their facial expression to ‘match’ others, not engaging in self-soothing behaviours, and more.

Masking may be done consciously (where they choose to put on the mask) or subconsciously (where they’ve recognised how people respond to them based on how they act, and therefore automatically behave in a way that ‘pleases’ others, without knowing this is masking).

Many autistic children, along with autistic adults who haven’t been diagnosed, may subconsciously mask. As they age or begin to understand who they are, they may drop this mask and act in a way that reflects them rather than how others may want them to behave. In scenarios like this, it may appear that their autism is getting ‘worse’. In actuality, this usually isn’t the case— instead, it’s the person acting in a way that’s true to them. And that should be celebrated! 

2. Levels

Autism is categorised into three levels, which imply how much support a person may need in their everyday life. These levels are:

  • Level 1 (requiring support)
  • Level 2 (requiring substantial support)
  • Level 3 (requiring very substantial support)

While each person is different, the idea behind every level is to give an overview of how that person’s autism affects their life. For example, those at level 1 typically have more difficulty communicating in comparison to their neurotypical peers but will generally be more adept than those with a level 2 or 3 diagnosis. 

One person may move between the levels throughout life, while others may stay at the same level. Terms such as ‘severe’ and ‘mild’ autism and different diagnoses within autism are no longer used.

As the way autism affects a person over time may change, their needs and limits may vary over time along with their level. For example, an autistic child may experience sensory overload when in loud or bright environments, but they may be able to tolerate these better as adults. Meanwhile, another autistic child may not have any difficulties conversing with others and making friends. In contrast, as an adult, they may have more anxieties around this and, therefore, find it more challenging than they used to.


Chatterbox: Assisting Autistic Children to Become Awesome Autistic Adults 

Autism is very nuanced, with everybody on the spectrum experiencing life differently and having different strengths than others. At Chatterbox, we believe that early therapy aims to give autistic children the best foundation as they make their way in the world and discover who they are and who they want to be. And there’s no better time to start than now! To see how we may be able to assist your child, contact our friendly and professional team today.