Twenty-year outcome for individuals with autism and average or near-average cognitive abilities



Previous studies found substantial variability in adult outcome for people with autism whose cognitive functioning was within the near-average and average ranges. This study examined adult outcome for 41 such individuals (38 men and 3 women) originally identified through an epidemiological survey of autism in Utah. Mean age at the time of their previous cognitive assessment was 7.2 years (SD=4.1, range=3.1–25.9 years) and at follow-up was 32.5 years (SD=5.7 years, range=22.3–46.4 years). Outcome measures included standardized assessments of diagnostic status, cognitive ability, and adaptive behavior. Additional information collected concerned demographic variables, indicators of independence, social relationships, medical and psychiatric conditions, and social service use. Outcomes for this sample were better than outcomes described in previous work on individuals with similar cognitive functioning. For example, half of the participants were rated as “Very Good” or “Good” on a global outcome measure. As in previous studies, there was considerable variability in measured cognitive ability over time. Over half of the sample had large gains or losses of cognitive ability of greater than 1 standard deviation. Cognitive gain was associated with better outcome, as was better adaptive functioning. While all participants had baseline IQs in the nonimpaired range, there was limited evidence to support the use of other early childhood variables to predict adult outcome.