How Do Autism Symptoms Typically Change Over Time?

Autism Symptoms

Communication problems, differences in social skills, learning challenges, behavioral issues—these are just some of the symptoms associated with autism. Symptoms can range from mild to severe with this condition that affects approximately 1 in 54 children but only an estimated 2.2% of the adult population (about 1 in 45 adults) in the U.S., according to statistics from the CDC. Autism symptoms can change over time—improving in some people and worsening in others. A child, teen, or adult’s daily habits, treatment, and support plays a major role in which direction symptoms evolve.


Autism symptoms can change over time—improving in some people and worsening in others. A child, teen, or adult’s daily habits, treatment, and support plays a major role in which direction symptoms evolve. Click To Tweet


People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience a wide range of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Limited eye contact
  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed learning skills
  • Delayed motor skills
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Ability to focus intensely on certain things
  • Difficulty comprehending social cues
  • Trouble reading facial expressions
  • Repetitive movements (such as rocking back and forth and hand flapping)
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Dislikes or gets upset when routines change
  • Engages in self-harmful behaviors (such as head-banging)
  • Having difficulty playing with other children
  • Withdrawn socially
  • Having trouble carrying on a conversation
  • Having a flat or sing-song tone of voice
  • Increased or decreased sensitivity to sensory input (clothing, lights, noise, temperature)

Not all people with the condition will exhibit all of these symptoms and because autism is a spectrum disorder, symptoms may range from mild to severe.


Symptoms of ASD may change over time. Signs of the condition may emerge in the first year of life in some children or may not develop until a child is 2 or 3 years old. Some children initially meet developmental milestones but stop acquiring new skills or begin to lose skills they used to possess. For example, a youngster may begin to lose the vocabulary they once had. As a child ages, symptoms can change.

Whether symptoms worsen or improve often depends on a person’s treatment plan. With an effective treatment program that involves behavioral therapies, educational support, and lifestyle changes, many children’s autism symptoms improve as they age.

Exciting research from the Mind Institute found that nearly 30% of children who received substantial interventions showed reductions in the severity of autism symptoms at age 6 compared with age 3. In fact, in this 2021 study, which assessed 125 children diagnosed with ASD, some children no longer met the criteria for ASD by age 6.

This study builds on previous research showing that autism intervention can decrease symptom severity. A 2016 follow-up of a randomized controlled trial in The Lancet found that parent-mediated social communication interventions aimed at 2- to 4-year-olds with autism resulted in long-term reductions in symptoms. to clarify, parent-mediated therapy involves parents learning intervention techniques from professionals and implementing them with their children in daily life.

Similarly, a 2019 study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders involving 60 children diagnosed with ASD found that follow-up assessments after intervention showed significant improvement in autism symptoms and cognitive gains.

By contrast, when autism goes undetected or untreated, symptoms typically worsen as time passes. In addition, as children grow into adolescence and adulthood, they may develop mental health issues. A 2019 study in JAMA Pediatrics concluded that people with ASD are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder compared with people who don’t have the condition. Other research points to an increased risk for ADD/ADHD and substance abuse among those with ASD. These issues can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and exacerbate negative symptoms.


Because there is such a broad range of autism symptoms, treatment typically requires a multidisciplinary approach. Interventions may include:

  • Behavioral therapies
  • Communication therapies
  • Supportive therapies
  • Medications
  • Dietary programs and nutritional supplementation
  • Complementary therapies

Considering that children and adults with autism experience a variety of symptoms with differing levels of severity, no single treatment plan will work for everyone. Understanding your child’s (or your own) individual needs is key to finding the most effective solutions to mitigate symptoms.


Autism is a brain-based disorder, and brain SPECT imaging research at Amen Clinics shows that it is not just one thing in the brain. On SPECT scans, which show blood flow and activity in the brain, there are different patterns of activity associated with ASD. The Amen Clinics database of over 170,000 brain scans includes scans from over 1,000 individuals with autism. These scans show high levels of brain activity in some individuals with autism and low activity levels in others with the condition.

Repetitive speech and behaviors, difficulty with changes in routines, and moodiness are more common in those with the overactive brain pattern of ASD. Learning problems, communication issues, and sensory processing abnormalities are more often seen in people with autism with underactive brain patterns.

Optimizing each of these brain patterns requires a different set of interventions. Knowing which brain type a child or adult with ASD has can be very beneficial in finding the most effective treatment program to improve autism symptoms.

Autism spectrum disorder and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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