Learning About Autism

Learning About Autism: When is the Ideal Time?

The impact of an autism diagnosis is significant, regardless of age. However, is it more beneficial to discover this condition at a young age, or could a diagnosis during adulthood offer people a better chance at a fulfilling life?

A recent study sheds light on this question by surveying 300 adults with autism in the United Kingdom. Through this approach, researchers sought to determine the age at which individuals were initially diagnosed. This study considered practical factors like healthcare access, financial situation, social support, and self-reported psychological assessments. These evaluations covered overall satisfaction, functionality, sense of purpose, and well-being.

According to the study’s author, Dr. Lucy Livingston, the answer is not straightforward because “there was no link between the age at which one learns they are autistic and their quality of life in adulthood.” Dr. Livingston is a cognitive psychologist and lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

She added, “for some people, finding out they are autistic sooner rather than later was linked to a better quality of life; for others, finding out later was better.” This means that the autism diagnosis’ impact differs from one person to another.

The participants in this research range in age from 18 to 68, with nearly 60% being women. Furthermore, over two-thirds of the participants reported living independently.

Around 15% of participants reported being diagnosed with autism as children, while nearly one-third received their diagnosis during their teenage years. Just over half of the participants learned they were on the autism spectrum as adults.

Researchers have found that age of diagnosis does not directly impact the quality of life. Instead, they have identified other factors that have a significant influence on the quality of life. For example, men with autism had a lower quality of life than women with autism. Additionally, those who faced additional mental health challenges, including anxiety, also had a lower quality of life.

While the researchers acknowledged the benefits of early recognition and diagnosis of autism, they suggested that other factors may play a more significant role in long-term quality-of-life outcomes.

One possible explanation is that receiving an autism diagnosis does not always result in having the necessary support and services. On the other hand, a late diagnosis in adulthood can be a positive experience, helping individuals make sense of themselves and improving their self-reported quality of life.

Arianna Esposito, the Vice President of Services and Support at Autism Speaks’ Lifespan Programs, expressed agreement with the outcomes. “Much like findings that early interventions help children with autism reach their full potential, learning of an autism diagnosis sooner rather than later can increase an individual’s awareness of their unique skill-set and also encourage them to access certain services and supports that can help them thrive throughout their life,” she said.

She also added that for some adults, receiving a diagnosis at this stage can bring relief as it can identify the root cause of long-standing behavioral issues. This can also grant them access to treatment, services, support groups, and social skills training tailored to autism.