People with milder forms of autism struggle as adults

Contrary to popular assumption, people diagnosed with so-called mild forms of autism do not fare any better in life than those with severe forms of the disorder. That is the conclusion of a new study that suggests that even individuals with normal intelligence and language abilities struggle to fit into society because of their social and communication problems.

In fact, people diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) are no more likely to marry or have a job than those with more disabling forms of autism, according to a Norwegian study published online in June in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders1.

Early intervention has the potential to alter this trajectory, say experts. However, until today’s children with autism reach maturity, it will be hard to say how much behavioral intervention at a young age can alter the course of their lives.

“The implication of our findings is that the consequences of having an autism spectrum disorder with profound difficulties in communication skills and social impairment can’t be compensated for by either high intellectual level or normal language function,” says lead investigator Anne Myhre, associate professor of mental health and addiction at the University of Oslo in Norway.

These findings provide support for the proposed merging of pervasive developmental disorder into the autism spectrum in the DSM-5, the edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) set to be published in 2013, the researchers say.

The new edition of the manual takes a spectrum approach, absorbing the separate categories of childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger syndrome and PDD-NOS into the broad category of autism spectrum disorder. The draft guidelines note that symptoms must appear in early childhood and affect every day functioning. “I’m glad that the authors see this as support for the DSM-5 proposed definitions,” says Sally Rogers, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis’ MIND Institute. Rogers is a member of the neurodevelopmental working group revising the diagnostic criteria for autism.


1: Mordre M. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. Epub ahead of print (2011) PubMed

2: Eldevik S. et al. J. Autism Dev. Disord. Epub ahead of print (2011) PubMed

3: Hofvander B. et al. BMC Psychiatry 9, 35 (2009) PubMed

4: Taylor J.L. and M.M. Seltzer J. Autism Dev. Disord. 41, 566-574 (2011) PubMed

5: Esbensen A.J. et al. Am. J. Intellect. Dev. Disabil. 115, 277-290 (2010) PubMed

6: Liptak G.S. et al. J. Dev. Behav. Pediatr. Epub ahead of print (2011) PubMed


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