A new study reveals people who learn they are autistic when they are younger may have a heightened quality of life and sense of well-being in adulthood.
Findings suggest that telling a child that they are autistic at a younger age empowers them by providing access to support and a foundation for self-understanding that helps them thrive later in life.
For the first time, researchers directly investigated whether learning if one is autistic at a younger age is associated with better adult outcomes. Many autistic people – particularly females, ethnic/racial minorities and people with limited resources – are diagnosed years after the characteristics are first noticed. In many cases, autistic people do not receive their diagnosis until adulthood.
The study was carried out by a team of autistic and non-autistic students and academic researchers. Seventy-eight autistic university students were surveyed, sharing how they found out they were autistic and how they felt about their diagnosis. Respondents also revealed how they felt about their lives and being autistic now.
One of the co-authors, Dr Steven Kapp, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, was diagnosed with and informed of his autism aged 13. He said:
“Students who learned they were autistic when they were younger felt happier about their lives than people who were diagnosed at an older age. Our study shows that it is probably best to tell people they are autistic as soon as possible in a balanced, personal, and developmentally appropriate way. Learning one is autistic can be empowering because it helps people understand themselves and also helps them connect with other people like them.”
The study suggests that parents should not wait for children to become adults to tell them they are autistic. No participants recommended doing so, although most highlighted factors to consider when informing a child of their autism, including developmental level, support needs, curiosity, and personality.