What to Expect for Autistic Children?

A look at the future of autism.

Below are some predictions about what we might know about autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the next 25 years. These are wishful predictions, but with doctors and researchers continuing to make strides, some of these optimistic insights may likely come true!

Identifying ASD Genes
As it is currently not a clear idea about which genes definitely cause an individual to have an autism spectrum disorder, in 25 years we might know which genes cause or contribute to causing a person to develop an ASD.
Imagine if we could let parents know if their newborn baby were at risk for developing an ASD. If we knew that information, families— and pediatricians— would be able to start treatment as soon as possible.

Understanding the Brain-Behavior Relationship in ASD
The human brain is probably the most complex machine in the universe. And we truly are at the early stages of understanding what specific areas of the brain affect ASDs. In 25 years, we may be able to identify how specific brain areas relate to the many behavioral symptoms seen in ASDs. The next quarter century might also produce information and technology to alter how specific brain areas influence and help ASDs.

Seeing an Increase in the Number of ASD disorders
Researchers now agree that we need to better understand the subtypes of ASD. In fact, in the next 25 years, the label “ASD” might no longer exist. As we discover more how genes, brain areas and behavioral symptoms are involved in ASDs, we will probably be able to identify different and more specific disorders. This means we might be defining disorders based on specific genes identified, brain areas affected and behavioral symptoms involved.

Finding Interventions for All Individuals with ASDs
Researchers and clinicians continue to develop and refine interventions to improve the range of deficits associated with ASDs. Within the next three decades, hopefully interventions that are effective for all individuals with ASDs may be identified, dismissing the “fad interventions.” If this happens, it should allow individuals with ASDs to receive interventions that actually work and lead to positive change. Actually, work on this has already begun. The National Autism Center has organized a National Standards Project, aiming to identify effective intervention programs that are supported by scientific research.

Finding a Cure for ASD
This is one of the most pressing concerns for parents. A cure is certainly a possibility and one that everyone hopes to see some day. However, be careful of people and organizations offering “cures” for ASDs that lack the support of scientific communities with ASD experts. Some important expert organizations to note the backing of others include the National Institutes of Health, National Research Council, American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and American Medical Association. If and when a cure is found, all such scientific communities will likely be onboard and the news will make headlines.

Anticipating the future
As exciting as it is to dream about the future, it is crucial to think about current children with ASDs, and their families, and what they can do now. We all need to be advocates for children and their families, and continue to support the funding of research in autism spectrum disorders to help people now and beyond the next 25 years.

If you suspect your child of having an ASD, make an appointment with your pediatrician or a child psychologist to evaluate your child’s development immediately.

5 Tips for Parents
Prepare your child with an autism spectrum disorder for the next 25 years.

  • You are your child’s best advocate. It’s important to begin to think about long-term goals for your child. Write them down and begin to problem solve ways to achieve them. What are the steps needed to achieve these goals? Who do you need to contact to aid you and your child?
  • Remember that time is of the essence— begin the intervention process immediately. If your child has an ASD, it is important that he or she receives interventions that improve your child’s social, intellectual, behavioral, language and emotional development. Contact point people at local early intervention programs, your county’s health department or your child’s school to start the process.
  • Find community resources to help your family and your child. Look for programs that provide parent education, respite services, social skills groups, sibling support services, parent support groups and other comprehensive family aid. Having support from others is key. Meeting parents in a similar situation or advocates with information about potentially helpful resources is also important.
  • Take care of your family’s mental health.  Having a child with ASD can seem overwhelming, which is completely understandable. Find support for you and your family from extended family members, friends, neighbors, national organizations and community advocates. Do a mental health check on a regular basis to make sure that all family members’ needs are getting met, including your own.
  • As your child becomes a teen, start thinking about the next phase of life— adulthood. For parents of many teens this means beginning to look for vocational training opportunities and programs that would suit a teen’s strengths and weaknesses.

If your teen has the skills and academic abilities to consider college, research colleges that have support services for students with ASD. Many young adults with ASD who can succeed in the academic aspects of college still experience social difficulties. Furthermore, experiencing difficulties with social skills and relationships is common for most adults with ASD— college bound or not. Aid your child in identifying resources at the college or within the community, such as peer support groups and counseling services. Think about whether your child might need supported independent living or a supervised living environment.