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Keywords:

  • Autism;
  • ASD ;
  • Very Positive Outcome;
  • adult outcome;
  • longitudinal

Background

The range of outcomes for young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and the early childhood factors associated with this diversity have implications for clinicians and scientists.

Methods

This prospective study provided a unique opportunity to predict outcome 17 years later for a relatively large sample of children diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old. Diagnostic and psychometric instruments were administered between 2 and 19 with data from 2, 3, and 19 included in this study. Clinicians administered tests without knowledge of previous assessments whenever possible. Caregivers provided additional information through questionnaires.

Results

Significant intellectual disabilities at 19 were predicted by age 2 about 85% of the time from VIQ and NVIQ scores together, though prediction of young adult outcome for youths with average or higher intelligence was more complex. By 19, 9% of participants had largely overcome core difficulties associated with ASD and no longer retained a diagnosis. These youths with Very Positive Outcomes were more likely to have participated in treatment and had a greater reduction in repetitive behaviors between age 2 and 3 compared to other Cognitively Able youths (VIQ ≥70) with ASD. Very Positive Outcome youths did not differ phenotypically from Cognitively Able ASD individuals at 2 but both groups differed from Cognitively Less Able individuals (VIQ <70).

Conclusion

Those most at risk for intellectual disabilities and ASD can be reliably identified at an early age to receive comprehensive treatment. Findings also suggest that some cognitively able children with ASD who participate in early intervention have very positive outcomes, although replication with randomized, larger samples is needed. In order to improve understanding of very positive outcomes in ASD, future research will need to identify how variations in child characteristics and environmental factors contribute to the nature and timing of growth across individuals and areas of development.