Can Autism Develop Later in Life?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a brain-based disorder typically diagnosed in children. That leaves many adults wondering if they can become autistic later in life, especially if they’ve noticed autism-like symptoms.

Because of the nature of the disorder, you cannot develop autism as an adult. ASD arises from atypical brain development. The brains of adults have already completed basic neurodevelopment, so you cannot develop autism later in life. However, it is still possible for autism to be diagnosed later, especially in higher-functioning adults.  [i]

The Drake Institute uses a unique non-drug approach to treating autism that includes qEEG brain mapping to identify brain dysregulation linked to autism symptoms. For decades, we have used advanced treatment technologies like qEEG brain mapping and neurofeedback to address brain dysregulation in order to reduce or resolve symptoms.

For more information regarding our non-drug treatment protocols, call us at 800-700-4233 or fill out the contact form.



What Is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that ranges from mild to severe and includes repetitive behaviors, impaired social communication, restricted interests, and rigidity.

The category of Autism Spectrum Disorder also includes Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegration disorder, and PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, not otherwise specified).

Because it is a spectrum disorder, signs, symptoms, and severity can differ wildly from person to person. These symptoms are generally related to behavior and communication.

There are no known causes of autism, but research points to multiple influences, such as genetic, environmental, and biological factors that could influence early neurodevelopment. Likewise, there is no cure for autism; it is a lifelong diagnosis that can be improved with proper treatment. [ii]

In the US, one in every 68 children has some sort of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Boys are diagnosed about four times as often as girls, though it’s possible that girls and women are affected by ASD at the same rate but are simply misdiagnosed or overlooked altogether.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

Autism is generally diagnosed in early childhood when symptoms begin to appear. However, diagnosis can be complex and challenging because there are no blood or lab tests to identify autism. Instead, the first signs of autism are noticed as developmental delays with the failure to meet certain milestones.

If the developmental milestones are not met, then an autism evaluation should be considered. This evaluation can include feedback from parents, teachers, childcare workers, and others that spend time with the child to identify symptoms indicative of an autism diagnosis.

During regular checkups with your child’s pediatrician, make sure to mention any milestone delays or concerns, especially information about the child’s communication, behavior, and socialization. This will be helpful in reaching a diagnosis. [iii]

What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Autism?

Developmental symptoms usually associated with autistic children can appear as early as the first year. More common symptoms of autism include a lack of appropriate interaction with others and restricted interests. The following is a more complete list of symptoms of autism in children. [iv]

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Lack of facial expressions (e.g., happy, sad, angry, etc.) by 9 months of age
  • Doesn’t play simple interactive games (e.g., pat-e-cake) by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no hand gestures (e.g., doesn’t wave hello or goodbye) by 12 months of age
  • Doesn’t share interests with others (e.g., doesn’t show you their favorite toy) by 15 months of age        
  • Doesn’t point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Doesn’t notice other children and play with them by 36 months of age
  • Doesn’t pretend to be someone else (e.g., teacher, superhero, etc.) by 48 months of age
  • Doesn’t sing, act, or dance for you by 60 months of age

How Does Autism Develop?

The causes of autism have been controversial. However, there are some suggested contributors to ASD.

Genetic risk factors, like mutations, could also contribute to developing autism. Some of these mutations have been located in specific genes connected to brain development, leading to atypical alterations.

Environmental factors could also lead to the development of autism. Exposure to chemicals and heavy metals during pregnancy has been shown to harm fetal growth and brain development. Even common pesticides and traffic pollution could pose risks.

Finally, biological risk factors such as infections and inflammation during pregnancy could affect brain development. [v]

To be clear, all of these potential factors influencing the development of autism are still being investigated.

Can Adults Develop Autism?

ASD can’t develop later in life. As we’ve discussed, autism is a developmental disorder that occurs during brain development in childhood. As an adult, your brain has already completed basic neurodevelopment with internal connections and functioning networks that determine your behavior, communication, and interactions with the world.

However, autism symptoms can show up later in higher-functioning individuals when they’re under more demand or challenge, making an adult autism diagnosis possible. In addition, some adults who were not diagnosed in childhood may be later diagnosed in adulthood.

Adult Symptoms of Autism

Symptoms of autism in adults can be similar to those in children. They include difficulties in social situations, obsessive interests, and strict adherence to routines.

Primary adult symptoms of autism include: [vi]

  • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings or reactions
  • Social anxiety
  • Trouble making and keeping friends
  • Coming off as brutally honest and not realizing they’re offending others
  • Not being interested in others’ points of view or feelings
  • Difficulty expressing how they feel
  • Interpreting things very literally or in black and white
  • Stuck in having the same routine every day and being uncomfortable if it is interrupted or threatened to be changed

Why Do So Many Adults Go Undiagnosed?

There are several reasons why many adults go undiagnosed.  

Children with high-functioning autism are not always diagnosed as easily because their symptoms aren’t as pronounced. Meanwhile, children with more apparent or disruptive symptoms are more likely to be diagnosed.

High-functioning children who remain undiagnosed may seem to get by without treatment, but challenges in adulthood could increase their vulnerability or deficits in social interactions, making symptoms more obvious. In higher-functioning individuals, when autism symptoms show up later or become more obvious in adulthood, it’s important to seek proper help.

This is especially true in high-functioning autistic women, who often excel at hiding symptoms. They are often more successful at fitting in with peers and mirroring behaviors. In other cases, difficulties socializing could be interpreted as shyness or introversion, not autism.

Sometimes autism symptoms are also misdiagnosed as a different disorder, like anxiety or depression. For both men and women, an incorrect diagnosis can be detrimental to getting the necessary treatment or accommodations. [vii] [viii]

How The Drake Institute Treats Autism

At the Drake Institute, we use specialized, advanced technologies like QEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neurostimulation to help reduce the presence and severity of symptoms related to autism, ADHD, stress, anxiety, PTSD, and other medical conditions.

Brain Mapping

Along with the clinical evaluation, brain mapping is one of the first steps in addressing the symptoms of autism. During brain mapping, 19 sensors are placed around the patient’s scalp in predetermined locations responsible for focus, executive functioning, memory, language, social processing, emotional regulation, and more.

The sensors measure brain activity and the results are analyzed to identify any areas or brain networks that are dysregulated linked to symptoms. Our Medical Director connects the findings on the QEEG to what is happening with the patient so that he can develop an effective and personalized treatment protocol for each patient.


Once brain mapping has been completed, neurofeedback therapy is then used to help patients reduce the symptoms of autism.

This treatment protocol helps reduce brain dysregulation, diminishing symptoms by guiding brain activity toward healthier, more functional patterns.

In some patients, biomedical abnormalities may need to be treated to maximize improvement from neurofeedback.


As an adjunct to neurofeedback, we may also use neurostimulation guided by QEEG brain map findings to gently guide the brain into healthier functional patterns. In our experience, some patients benefit even more from neurofeedback training if we also use neurostimulation. We have found this particularly helpful for lower-functioning children on the Autism Spectrum.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

At the Drake Institute, we know how challenging even day to life can be for people with autism and their families. Contact us for details on how we can help improve symptoms and quality of life. Please fill out the free consultation form or call us at 800-700-4233.











Contact Us Today

To get the help you or a loved one needs, call now to schedule your no-cost screening consultation.

dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

More About What Makes Drake Institute Unique