Without timely intervention, intellectual disability in autistic children can worsen over time, contributing to poor life skills and challenging behavior, according to a 15-year study.
Nearly one in three autistic people has intellectual disability, defined as an intelligence quotient (IQ) below 70. This condition can limit these individuals’ adaptive behaviors — daily living skills such as self-care, managing money and maintaining relationships.
The new study tracked 106 autistic children at four time points from ages 5 to 20 years. Of these children, 98 had mild to severe intellectual disability at age 5 — meaning they had an estimated IQ of 20 to 69.
But children who had severe autism traits developed more severe intellectual disability as adults. They were more likely than the other participants to show challenging behaviors, such as hyperactivity and irritability, that interfered with their daily lives.
“Comorbidities, particularly intellectual disabilities, contribute to a kind of vicious circle,” says lead investigator Amaria Baghdadli, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University Hospital of Montpellier in France. “They reinforce the intensity of autism symptoms, especially communication problems, and limit the possibilities of adaptive compensations.”
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