Prognosis for Autism

Find out more about autism behaviors.

When your child faces an autism diagnosis, you may want to know about the prognosis for autism. Since each case of autism is unique and autism includes many different levels of impairment, a prognosis is hard to predict at initial autism diagnosis. However, certain factors influence an autism prognosis. Learn how an autism prognosis is predicted and ways to increase your child's chance for the best possible outcome.

Factors That Affect Prognosis for Autism

Some doctors will not give a parent a definitive answer about an autistic child's long-term future. Part of the reason is that it is always hard to predict the future capabilities of any toddler with certainty. Doctors are also careful to not to mislead parents because the child is still developing and intervention can make a major difference in the child's future.

Factors that can affect the prognosis for autism include:

  • IQ
  • Language development
  • Communication ability
  • Social skills
  • General level of impairment


An IQ test is often used as an indicator of possible intellectual ability and future achievement. Some autism experts and school districts require IQ tests. However, don't base all of your assumptions on an IQ result because sometimes IQ tests are not accurate. A number of autism experts claim that IQ tests are not a true measure of an autistic person's cognitive ability. The main problem with testing is the child may be unable to communicate understanding effectively. The child's intelligence is impossible to measure when communication is limited.

Language and Communication Impairment Level

The impairment level in language and communication affect the initial autism prognosis. While each case of autism is unique, autism generally involves varying degrees of impairment in language, speech and communication ability. A child with autism may have limited to no verbal skills, difficulty understanding the emotional responses of others, problems understanding nonverbal gestures or sensory issues. Since language, speech and ability to communicate are essential to functioning independently in society, a child with severe impairments in speech and communication may require lifelong care as an adult. However, a high functioning child with autism and only mild impairments in language and communication may grow up to live independently and seek mainstream employment.

It is also important to remember that autism treatment can improve language and communication in both severe and mild cases of autism and ultimately affect prognosis.

Social Skills Impairment

A child with autism also has problems with social skills. In early childhood, this is noticeable when a child shows no interest in making friends, has unusual playing patterns such as fixating on unusual objects for hours, does not engage in imaginative play and prefers solitude to interacting with others, including parents.

She also may not like to be cuddled and may get upset by any physical contact such as a simple pat on the shoulder. The child also may react inappropriately to certain situations because of misunderstanding another person's emotional response or missing social cues.

The level of social skill impairment may have an impact on whether or not an adult with autism lives independently or requires lifelong care. Problems with social skills can also be improved with therapy.

Ways to Improve Prognosis

You can help your autistic child through early intervention and finding the right treatment plan. Autism treatments may include a mixture of therapies, behavior modification, medication and diet changes. Finding the right treatment plan for a child may take some research and working closely with your child's doctors and therapists.

Early Intervention

Early intervention makes a significant difference in the prognosis for autism. The idea of early intervention deals with the plasticity of the brain and a chance to transfer function by intervening early in brain development. The plasticity is based on the concept that a child's brain does yet have permanently established areas for specific brain functions like an adult brain and therefore, the functions that do not operate properly can be improved through the autism treatments.

Autism Therapies

Children and adults with autism can make improvements with autism therapies and medications. Common therapies include behavioral, occupational and sensory integration.

A University of Michigan study found that 40 percent of autistic children learn to speak fluently by age nine with early intervention, while only 14 percent of autistic children do not. Prior to the study, it was a common belief that half of all children with autism never learn to speak.

What Autism Research Reveals

The future for people with autism is more promising than ever before. Current medical treatments are working for many people with autism. Ongoing autism research is constantly looking for the more effective autism treatments, potential autism causes and possible cures.

Even though the exact cause if autism is unknown, autism research reveals possible answers. Research on possible genetic causes, environmental factors and brain abnormalities have given more insight into possible causes of autism.

A 2009 University of Cambridge study identified 27 genes that were associated with autism traits, empathy and Asperger's syndrome. Another 2009 University of California Davis study linked California's soaring autism rate with environmental toxins such as household chemicals and pesticides. A study published in the 2009 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found evidence of brain abnormalities as a possible autism cause when researchers found corpus callosum abnormalities in the brains of 32 people with autism.

Ways To Help Your Child

You can help your child with autism make the most progress by being his advocate. Advocate for him by learning his specific needs, researching autism and seeking treatment and caregivers accordingly. Work closely with all doctors, teachers and therapists on your child's treatment plan to make sure that you agree with his treatment.

If a doctor or therapist ever gives you a dire prognosis, do not give up hope. Seek second opinions and keep looking for the right treatment plan. Remember there is always reason to hope for improvements. Even in severe cases of autism, the right treatment plan can provide some level of symptom improvement.

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Prognosis for Autism