Autistic children are usually (though by no means always) diagnosed in their early childhood. New research from UCLA, however, indicates that brain development experiences delays into the teen years. These findings could help account for some of the symptoms of autism experienced by many individuals in this age range. The parts of the brain that are involved in learning, emotional processing, language, and social skills appear to develop more gradually in autistic preteens. Often, autistic children experience difficulties with socializing, particularly in this already difficult period of their lives.
While these new findings help researchers understand (and in the future, possibly ease) some of the difficulties autistic individuals experience throughout their life cycles, one should not take slower brain development in some areas to mean defective or inferior. Particularly, areas like reasoning tend to be better developed in individuals who have been diagnosed with autism. This is not limited to so-called “savants.” While autistic individuals often score poorly on standardized tests or have difficulty communicating, those who know them well would probably tell you that many people with autism are incredibly smart, just not in a way that easily translates into what is “normal,” which is why autism was considered a defect for many years.