The researchers undertook the current study as a follow up to an earlier study they did of adults with autism. The researchers studied children to determine if the features of autism were consistent throughout life, or changed as people with autism grow older. For the most part, the current study revealed that both adults and children with autism experience the same kinds of difficulties with complex tasks.
One difference is that adults with autism appear to score higher on tests involving sensory interpretation than do children with autism. Such tests would involve identifying a number traced on a finger tip, or identifying an object placed in one's hand without looking at it. Dr. Minshew said that as people with autism grow older, they may have less sensory difficulty than they did as children.
Still, adults with autism fare much worse on tests of complex language and reasoning than do other adults. This gap in complex language and reasoning ability between the two groups is not as pronounced when children with autism are compared to other children. This is because children's brains have not yet developed these skills, Dr. Minshew said. However, the gap widens with time. As typical children get older, they develop these higher order language and reasoning skills while adolescents and adults with autism do not.
Contact: Robert Bock or Marianne Glass Miller
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development