Autism During Lifespan Development Stages

Autism is one of the mental impairments that results in impaired social communication, social interaction, and social imagination. This paper tackles how autism affects these social aspects and how consequently it affects developmental tasks in lifespan. The paper will explore each stage of development, highlighting the tasks associated with each stage and pointing out the effects of autism. Finally, the paper gives a brief summary of what autism is, and its effects on lifespan development tasks.


In the developmental stages of the lifespan, people are expected to achieve some tasks and to achieve them successfully. Unfortunately, not all people have the capacity to achieve these tasks successfully due to different reasons. For instance, people suffering from autism may find it hard to achieve most tasks in life because of this condition. What is lifespan development and what is its history? Well, according to Mosher, Youngman, and Day (1999), there is enough documentation of human development throughout lifespan dating back to pre-scientific times (p. 1). Human beings change over time as they grow and this process entails many stages influenced by different factors. People develop emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually among other dimensions of life. All these types of development occur across the lifespan and as aforementioned, these development stages differ from one individual to the other. This development process entails some tasks referred to as developmental tasks of life. What are the developmental tasks of life?

Tennant (2006) posits that developmental tasks of life are those tasks that an individual must learn and they include things that institute healthy, vibrant, and satisfactory growth and development of every person in society (p. 44). These are things that, people have to learn to be in a position to pass a personal judgment concerning happiness and prosperity and be judged by others regarding the same. There are tasks that arise at given periods of human development and if someone achieves them, then he or she becomes happy and successful. On the other hand, if someone fails to achieve these tasks, then he or she becomes unhappy and unsuccessful. It is interesting how people will strive hard to achieve given tasks simply because society expects them to achieve them and anything short of this is dubbed ‘failure’. These developmental tasks of life measure up to a socially sanctioned protocol or timetable through which every individual must undergo growth and development. However, some individuals cannot live up to the expectations of society due to impairments. What happens to this group of people? How do the effects of their impairment affect the successful achievement of these life tasks? Well, this paper deals with the effects of autism in the successful achievements of life tasks during lifespan development.


Autism is a lifetime developmental impairment. According to The National Autistic Society (2008), people with autism have difficulties in social communication, social interaction, and social imagination. The world, to people with autism, is a mass of places, people, and issues that makes no sense and causes them to struggle to decipher all the complexities in it. These people have difficulties in relating with other people or even understanding them. Living a normal social life is a nightmare for these individuals. Autistic people cannot understand why other people seem to cognize how to communicate and interact with other people. However, not all people with autism are completely impaired from living a normal life. Some autistic people live relatively normal lives but others need lifelong medical specialists to take care of them (The National Autistic Society, 2008). It is difficult to understand autistic people because they appear normal. Parents to autistic children posit that some people think their autistic children are naughty. This makes it even harder to create autism awareness because people cannot really see the disability.

To understand the effects of autism on successful achievements of life tasks, it is important to analyze how autism affects individuals. Even though autism effects vary from one person to the other, there are distinguishing characteristics that are common among autistic individuals. The first characteristic is impaired social communication (The National Autistic Society, 2008). These people cannot utilize both verbal and non-verbal communication. Most of these people have only an elementary understanding of language and they believe that people mean precisely what they say. To these people, body language is a foreign language and they will have difficulties in understanding common phrases, jokes, facial expressions, sarcasm, and tone of voice among other components of communication. In some extreme cases, autistic people cannot speak or may have limited speech. In such cases, these individuals resort to sign language. Others find it difficult to perceive what other people tell them, and in some cases, these autistic people will resort to repeating what has been said to them. This condition is known as ‘echolalia’ (The National Autistic Society, 2008).

The other impairment is problems in social interaction. To these people, social interaction is not a natural phenomenon; rather it needs to be studied like any other subject. Autistic people say that there is a need to master elementary communication skills because they seem not to understand all that has to do with communication. It is difficult for autistic people to understand or recognize other people’s feelings or emotions. It is even harder for them to express their own feelings (Mosher, Youngman, and Day, 1999). These factors lockout autistic individuals from the social web where there has to be showing off one’s feelings, and understanding of other’s feelings and emotions. For instance, there are unwritten social rules that people pick up unconsciously in the process of social interaction. However, autistic people may not even initiate a conversation let alone understanding other people. Moreover, these people may seem insensitive because they do not realize other people’s feelings, hence their seclusion from social interaction quarters. Autistic people may resort to spending most of the time alone avoiding company and the comfort of socializing. Social interaction is all about forming friendships and sharing, however, autistic people may not know how to go about it even if they have the passion to socialize (Mosher, Youngman, and Day, 1999).

The third characteristic of autism is difficulty in the social imagination. These people have problems in understanding what other people think or know and they can only make weird guesses concerning the same. According to The National Autistic Society (2008), social imagination enables someone to perceive and prognosticate other people’s demeanor and facilitates imaginations that transcend the normal daily routine. This imagination enables people to draw conclusions from abstract ideas. Therefore, autistic people will have difficulties in understanding and construing other people’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings among other factors. These people find it hard to predict what may happen or anticipate anything from other people. They do not know what is expected of them as they do not expect a lot from other people (Mosher, Youngman, and Day, 1999). Autistic people especially children, cannot get involved in inventive plays, and even if they get involved, they tend to do something repeatedly. It is very difficult for these people to predict and plan for change or even deal with difficult situations. Difficulties in social imagination tie closely with lack of imagination even though they do not mean the same thing. However, research indicates that some autistic people are very creative and they can make successful artists, writers, and musicians among other practices done by normal people (Mosher, Youngman, and Day, 1999).

Lifespan Tasks and Effects of Autism on Them

In the course of the human life span, people go through different stages of development from birth to death. At every developmental stage, there are tasks that an individual has to accomplish. The following are the stages that an individual has to go through and the developmental tasks associated with every stage. The first stage is infancy, which runs from birth to age two. At this stage, the developmental tasks include social adherence, object cognition, the ontogenesis of motor functions, sensorimotor development, and archaic causality (The Human Lifespan, 2000). At this stage, autism sets in, and an infant cannot smile by 6 months, use gestures by 1 year or construct two words’ phrases by 2 years and expresses detrimental development (Iannelli, 2008). Consequently, the developmental tasks at this stage are impaired. Motor functions cannot grow appropriately, the social connection mechanisms become severed, and abnormal behaviors set in. However, is difficult to diagnose autism at this stage.

The second stage is toddlerhood that runs from 2 years to 4 years. The developmental tasks at this stage are learning self-control, development of language, playing and fantasizing, and elaborated movement (The Human Lifespan, 2000). Due to autism, children at this level do not develop and carry out these tasks sufficiently. They do not master self-control, as they do not interact with other children more often. Language development also takes a back seat during this period. According to Mosher, Youngman, and Day (1999), language develops as children interact with other children and other people in general. Unfortunately, autistic children become introverted at this stage and have minimal social interaction. They do not even realize when other children are around them. They seem to be living in their own world that does not allow interaction. The play and the fantasizing task of development do not receive better attention either. Due to their introverted behavior, autistic children do not play with other children. Most normal children around this time fantasize a lot and ask so many questions arising from their fantasies, a factor that is conspicuously lacking in autistic children. Movement is also reduced, as these children prefer to remain silent in one place absorbed in their own world (Iannelli, 2008). They spend most of their time arranging and rearranging objects and this characterizes the repetitive behavior of autistic toddlers.

Early school-age follows toddlerhood closely between the age of five and seven. The developmental tasks in this context include identifying gender roles, primary moral development, group play, and thinking patterns (The Human Lifespan, 2000). Autism affects intellectual development largely at this stage. It is at this stage that children start making decisions as per their thinking. They define gender roles differentiating who has to do what. The cognitive levels are under development in this context. Autism hinders primary moral development in children at this point. Moral development entails developing a code of conduct. While normal children may develop moral conduct at this time through processes like reward and punishment, autistic children experience very little of these processes. At around this period of development, children engage actively in team plays. However, autistic children as aforementioned are introverts hence they will not join with other children in play. Autism impairs preoperational thought with most autistic children acting without thinking too much about the things they do. However, not all autistic children have these impairments portrayed visibly. Some live normal lives.

The Human Lifespan (2000) posits that middle school age follows early school age between the ages of eight and twelve. At this age, children develop social cooperation, team playing, learning new skills, self-evaluation, and formation of firm operational thought. The social aspect of an individual starts to take direction at this step. Unfortunately, as aforementioned, autism affects the social facet of an individual. Autistic children have reduced social cooperation (Mosher, Youngman, and Day (1999). This is the major characteristic of autism across all stages of development. The introverted behavior stretches to this stage and autistic children do not learn to play as a team. This is a very detrimental aspect of life given that; people in life have to associate and work in groups to achieve many things. It is at this stage that children learn new skills. Unfortunately, autistic children miss this opportunity because children learn new skills through interaction and social cooperation (Mosher, Youngman, and Day (1999). Autistic children do not develop self-evaluation given that they do not share a lot with other children or with other people in general. Middle school age entails the development of concrete operational thought a factor hindered largely by autism.

The next stage of life span development is early adolescence occurring between the ages of thirteen and seventeen (The Human Lifespan, 2000). The developmental tasks in this stage include sexual relationships, formal operations, physical development, and becoming a member of a given peer group. Autism locks many adolescents from experiencing and achieving most of these tasks. Even though autistic adolescents may have physical development and maturation, they miss out on the social aspect of this stage. They may not find a partner to associate with sexually or emotionally because in most cases they do not even know how to initiate a conversation. As noted earlier, these people do not know anything to do with body language and they cannot understand other people’s feelings and emotions, neither can they express their feelings efficiently. Associating or becoming a member of any peer group becomes insurmountable in the face of autism. Peer groups deals with social relationships; a factor that autism debilitates to its core.

After early adolescence, later adolescence follows closely where individuals become autonomous without the influence of parents, they have internalized morality, and they, make career choices (The Human Lifespan, 2000). This is between the ages of 18 to 22. Autism does not allow the successful achievement of these tasks. For instance, it is difficult for autistic people to separate from their parents because they need constant care throughout their lives. Parents or caregivers have to be around these people thus locking out the task of autonomy in life. Autistic individuals may have internalized morality but they may not portray it because most of the time they keep to themselves. When it comes to career choice, these people in most cases do not have established careers or career choices. Severely affected autistic people do not work at all; therefore, they do not have any career choices. Even those who have the capacity to live a normal life do not have established career choices because of affected development both socially and intellectually.

Early adulthood then follows later adolescence between the ages of 23 to 30. According to The Human Lifespan (2000), developmental tasks at this stage include relationships leading to marriage, bearing children, working, and developing a lifestyle. Autistic people again miss out on this crucial development stage. Most of these tasks revolve around social interaction, social communication, and social imagination. These are the critical areas affected by autism. Consequently, autistic people do not develop these tasks successfully. For instance, as aforementioned, these people do not know how to express their feelings well. Marriage is all about expressing one’s feelings and understanding others’ feelings and emotions. Autistic people cannot do this effectively. Childbearing results from sexual relationships, a practice that is uncommon among autistic people.

Between the ages of 31 and 50, people enter middle adulthood. At this stage, tasks like childbearing extend from early adulthood. People have to manage household chores and manage their careers at the same time (The Human Lifespan, 2000). As previously mentioned, autistic people have difficulties in engaging in relationships that may lead to childbearing, they do not have careers to manage and they cannot manage household chores in fact many need to be managed. The final stage of lifespan is between age 51 and death (The Human Lifespan, 2000). At this point, people start redirecting their energies to other things, they start accepting their lives the way they are and at the same time start understanding death from a different perspective. Autistic people, because they do not understand what is happening around them, they do not achieve these tasks effectively. Generally, autism locks people out of all developmental tasks that are associated with social thinking, interaction, and imagination.


During the journey of life from birth to death, people undergo different stages of life given the name ‘lifespan stages.’ In every stage, people have to achieve certain tasks to experience full development in all spheres of life. Most of these tasks have to do with social life. Human beings are social animals and they have to socialize and associate in most of the tasks they do in life. Unfortunately, some diseases or impairments may stand in the way of the successful achievement of these tasks. Autism is such an impairment that locks the affected individuals from successfully achieving their tasks during their lifespan. However, some individuals live normal lives but they register reduced success in achieving these tasks.

Autism is a developmental impairment condition that affects social interaction, social imagination, and social communication. Autistic people do not fit well in social quarters of life and this acts as a big impediment towards the successful achievement of lifespan tasks. Most lifespan tasks involve social interaction; therefore, since autistic people have difficulties in social interaction and communication, they do not develop these tasks successfully. Right from birth, autism sets in and children start living abnormal lives as they grow. By the time, they join school they are introverts and spend most of their time alone. Getting into adolescence, things do not change and they carry this behavior through adulthood to death. Consequently, autistic people fail to develop most of the developmental tasks that involve social interaction. This is a direct result of this developmental condition; that is, autism. However, some individuals lead a normal life and it is hard to realize that they are autistic without a closer look.


Iannelli, V. (2008). Early Signs of Autism. Web.

Mosher, R., Youngman, D., & Day, J. (Eds). (1999). Human Development across the Life Span Educational and Psychological Applications. Praeger Publishers. Web.

Tennant, M. (2006). Psychology and Adult Learning. 3rd ed. Routledge. Web.

The Human Lifespan. (2000). Life Stages, Developmental Tasks, and Psychosocial Crisis. Web.

The National Autistic Society. (2008). Autism: What is it? Web.

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