What Happens If Autism Is Not Treated?

Today you’ll find out what happens if autism is not treated.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

What Happens If Autism Is Not Treated?

When someone with autism isn't treated, it can lead to numerous long-term social and behavioral problems that may potentially result in a lower life expectancy.

What Happens If Autism Is Not Treated?

A young child being diagnosed with autism can be stressful for them and their parents. Children usually receive a diagnosis between six months of infancy and toddler age. The earlier that autism is detected, the better a plan can be created by psychologists and pediatricians.

Most of these plans include some form of therapy, things like assistance in teaching them language and communication skills, proper ways to conduct themselves in public, and help with maintaining emotions as they respond to the world around them.

Autistic people often suffer from sensory overload, which is when too much stimulation through sound, visuals, or touch is given to the point of causing stress and anxiety.

Both doctors and psychologists strongly recommend that young people be treated for ASD symptoms as soon as an official diagnosis is given. Of course, many cases of autism are milder than others, but if left untreated, they may also rise in severity. Sometimes, the situation in which one with the disorder is living can play a big role in this, particularly for adults on the spectrum.

Other times, a misdiagnosis can cause poor treatment that doesn't appear to help one with the disorder in any way. Because of the risk of misdiagnosis, psychologists now follow up with additional screenings, whereby a classification on the severity level of autism is made.

When adults with autism attempt to go about their life, they may have trouble coping with the stresses of employment or school.

Making friends can become extremely hard to do, as autism is sometimes shown through social awkwardness. And, like children in grade school, bullies in higher education and employment can worsen their situation.

Bullying is a serious problem for autistic people, as is learning how to handle themselves in public without giving in to their unwanted behavioral symptoms. These are all things that therapy after a diagnosis can teach.

However, in many instances, they might be left alone to figure coping mechanisms out on their own. This isn't easy and may lead to physically and mentally damaging results.

There's a large number of adults that are on the spectrum and receiving care from a primary doctor, which sometimes does result in a late diagnosis. Estimates put the number at one out of every 100 adults having mild to extreme autism that hasn't been officially recognized through diagnosis.

Here are some additional problems that adults can have with undiagnosed autism:

  • Trouble staying employed - People with autism sometimes struggle to talk with others can exhibit problems understanding tasks by looking at things from a literal standpoint and may have trouble working in groups. Many jobs require their employees to have experience in some of the qualifications that a person on the spectrum might be lacking, such as interpersonal skills, the ability to communicate with a group, and carrying out multiple tasks at once. Potential is high for termination when autism isn't diagnosed as an ASD employee may not understand why they struggle with specific tasks their peers have no problem carrying out or feel sequestered by the people around them.
  • Severe depression - When trouble with employment and social isolation occurs, the chances of one becoming depressed increase. Depression on its own can be a devastating experience for someone without ASD. Yet for anyone that does have it and hasn't been diagnosed, long-term depression could lead to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. Other delinquent problems might arise, like getting in trouble from fights, other criminal activities, alcoholism, and heavy drug use. If they're misdiagnosed, addiction to prescription medication is a huge risk. Studies estimate that between 4% and 10% of the US prison population could be autistic.
  • Trouble with hygiene - People that are depressed, regardless of whether they have autism, haven't been diagnosed, or just don't typically show it through indifference to themselves, their cleanliness, and their living environment. The results can be long-lasting and difficult to push out from, more so when therapy and a diagnosis come at a later time in life.

What Happens If An Autistic Child Is Not Treated?

When children aren't treated for their autism, they are at a bigger risk of not being properly educated, could hurt themselves or the people close to them, and might miss school altogether.

This is considering milder cases. Some undiagnosed autistic children can talk well and never learn to.

They may be left behind and be forced to repeat different grade levels, act out poorly when in school, and even be expelled if their behavior leads to physical harm to others or themselves.

Because no therapy is given to those that do go undiagnosed, trouble with parents can occur.

A child may not have a proper diet and could become obese or underweight from a lack of healthy eating habits. Young people with ASD already struggle with food. When there's no diagnosis, they may never learn how to eat properly, whereby parents may give in to specific meals they want just to keep them from acting out.

Additionally, the following may occur with autistic young people that haven't been diagnosed:

  • Poor motor abilities - Motor abilities, or motor skills, are functions where one must use their body to engage it, such as placing objects in a specific spot, walking, running, and moving in a specific way. When therapy is provided to people with autism, these skills are some of the first things taught and are crucial to their later development. Without them, a child is more likely to have problems knowing how to properly conduct themselves as it relates to their motor abilities. Even standing still for longer than a couple of minutes could become challenging.
  • Poor social skills - When the peers of an undiagnosed autistic child come to them, the chances are high of the child showing body language that could come off as rude, indifferent, and even offensive. They may remove their clothing when it's inappropriate for them to, such as in a classroom filled with other children or when out in public.
  • Self-harm - With so many things going on that they cannot understand, like loud, overwhelming noises and crowded spaces, an undiagnosed child may know no other way of coping with it other than self-harm. When autistic children do this, they might bang their heads against a hard surface, pull at their hair, or even attempt to place dangerous objects in their mouths.

How To Know When Your Child Should Get Treated

Parents should consider taking their child to see a psychologist when any of the symptoms previously described are exhibited. These include problems recognizing social cues, an inability to communicate, and in very small children, a lack of response when their name is being called.

An autism diagnosis might not be made immediately, but will follow after a series of tests and interviews are conducted with a child. An MRI might also be suggested since autism may show a lack of neurotypical development.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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