This paper focuses on general social functioning in two groups of young men, one with
autism and one with developmental receptive language disorders, who were first assessed at
the ages of 7–8 years. At that time, although matched for nonverbal IQ (mean 92–93) and
expressive language, the Language group showed significantly fewer social and behavioural
problems. At follow-up, when aged on average, 23 to 24 years, the Autism group continued
to show significantly more impairments in terms of stereotyped behaviour patterns, social
relationships, jobs, and independence. However, problems in all these areas were also
common in the Language group. Many still lived with their parents, few had close friends or
permanent jobs, and ratings of social interaction indicated abnormalities in a number of
different areas. On a composite measure of social competence only 10% of the Language
group was assessed as having severe social difficulties compared to 74% of the Autism group.
Nevertheless, 65% were rated as having moderate social problems and only 25% were rated
as being of near/normal social functioning. Two individuals in the Language group, but
none in the Autism group, had also developed a florid paranoid psychosis in late adolescence.
As in the follow-up of cognitive and linguistic functioning (see Mawhood et al., 2000, this
volume, pp. 547–559), discriminant function analysis, which had clearly distinguished
between the groups as children, now showed much greater overlap between them. Regression
analysis indicated that although early language ability appeared to be related to outcome in
the Autism group, there was little association between any measures of childhood
functioning and prognosis in the Language group. Theoretically, these findings have
implications for our understanding of the nature of autism and other pervasive language
disorders, and of the relationship between them. Practically, they demonstrate the very
persistent problems experienced by individuals with developmental language disorders, and
their need for much greater help and support than is presently available.