Several readers had questions about the range of adult outcomes in autism and how treatments may affect outcomes in individual children....
More and more individuals with autism are now able to function independently as adults. This is a major change over past decades, probably reflecting earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments. There is a very good summary of this in a chapter by Patricia Howlin in the Handbook of Autism (2005, Wiley).
Unfortunately not every child gets better. Sometimes the outcome seems to relate to the severity of the autism in childhood. Individuals whose disability is more profound continue, as adults, to need considerable support and help. It is unfortunately the case that for this population, services are often minimal, research is sparse and resources are lacking. The federal government has identified this as a priority area in autism work, and rightly so.
But even when we are fairly optimistic about an individual child, he or she may not do well as an adult. This is one of the reasons those of us who have been in the field for a long time are very careful about predicting the future to parents. We can only talk, in general, about what on average are good or bad prognostic factors.
For individuals with autism who can go on to college, a number of resources are available on the Yale Child Study Center Web site, including books and links to programs. Options range from small and very supportive programs specific to individuals with autism and related disorders, to traditional colleges and universities. Our book, “A Practical Guide to Autism,” also has a chapter on the topic of adults and discusses college services.
Daily living and adaptive skills, along with organizational skills and abilities, become even more important during the college years. It is important that students and parents realize, though, that changes in the law (the Americans With Disabilities Act now applies to such children) mean that college is not a right, and that those with autism can and do get expelled. Issues relating to sexuality and apparently inappropriate behavior are frequent reasons cited.