The goal of this study was to describe the typical, longitudinal, developmental trajectories of communication and social functioning in individuals with autism spectrum disorder from childhood through adulthood and to determine the correlates of these trajectories.
Children with autism spectrum disorder who were born in California from 1992 through 2016 and enrolled with the California Department of Developmental Services were identified. Subjects with <4 evaluations in the database were excluded, resulting in a sample of 71 285 individuals. Score sequences were constructed based on evaluative items for communication and social functioning. Typical trajectories were identified using group-based latent trajectory modeling, and logistic regression was used to determine the odds of classification into a social adolescent decline trajectory by individual-, family-, and zip code-level factors.
Six typical patterns of communication functioning and 7 typical patterns of social functioning were identified. Whereas the majority of autistic individuals exhibit improved communication functioning as they age, the majority of individuals exhibit steady social functioning. A small group of individuals (5.0%) exhibits high social functioning in childhood that declines in adolescence. Membership in this adolescent decline group is associated with maternal non-Hispanic white race and ethnicity, female sex, moderate levels of maternal education, lower zip code-level median home values and population density, and higher zip code-level inequality.
Most autistic individuals show improved communication and social functioning as they age, but not all do. Trajectory group membership is correlated with socioeconomic status. Future research should investigate what drives these correlations.