Can some children 'grow out of' autism?

Autistic children correctly diagnosed with the condition could lose symptoms of the disorder as they get older. This is according to new research published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which suggested some kids might possibly grow out of autism.

Supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), investigators from the University of Connecticut looked at 34 children diagnosed with autism at a young age who later believed themselves to be functioning no differently to others the same age. They compared these youngsters with 44 peers with high-functioning autism and 34 youngsters deemed to have developed in the typical manner.

Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health - which is a component of the NIH that deals with mental health disorder issues - explained that although autism diagnosis is not often lost over time, these findings point to numerous possible outcomes for children with the illness.

Mr Insel stated: "For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention."

Professor Uta Frith from University College London, an Honorary Fellow of the British Psychological Society, comments on this study:

"It took a while to accept that autism spectrum disorders are lifelong, but now we have to modify this belief. I am persuaded by Fein's study that autism 'goes away' in a small number of cases, and this fits in with my personal but only half acknowledged experience.

"Even if it is only a small the number of cases, the impact on theories of neurocognitive development will be enormous. My guess is that all neurodevelopmental disorders, not just autism, may have a variant that is temporary."

Dr Sinead Rhodes from the University of Strathclyde adds:

"This study adds to growing evidence that a small proportion of children with developmental disorders, in this case autism spectrum disorder (ASD), may begin to show reduced or even absent symptoms of their original diagnosis with development. Similarly, some children with the developmental disorder ADHD show a reduction of symptoms with development and no longer meet diagnostic criteria as older children.

"It is important to note, however, that children who no longer meet diagnostic criteria for a developmental disorder may still show significant functional impairment. The authors indeed report that some of the 'optimal outcome' group were judged to have social functioning mildly affected by non-autism conditions, such as anxiety or impulsivity.

"As the National Autistic Society emphasises in their comment on this story, the study included a small sample of high functioning children and the number of children who no longer meet diagnostic criteria for ASD will be a small proportion of those affected by the disorder. Developmental disorders such as these tend to be life-long conditions."

Our charity, Treating Autism, has close to a thousand member families. Many of them have seen incredible changes in their children with ASD diagnoses when using appropriate interventions. Some of these children have completely recovered, and no one, regardless of their expertise in autism, would see any traces of their former diagnoses. This type of recovery is still fairly rare, although in a survey conducted of our members, some of whom are adults with ASD treating themselves, 95% of respondents said that interventions had proven beneficial, and 24% responded that biomedical treatments had been 'life-changing'. We know that the sort of 'optimal outcomes' discussed in Fein's research would be a lot more common if people with autism and their families were given the sorts of support--medical and otherwise--that they need, and if professionals were basing their actions on the fact that ASD is not necessarily a life-long diagnosis. Sadly, the vast majority of these families receive little to no appropriate help.
We hope, for the sake of our children, many of whom are now adults, that this study and other current research will be taken seriously by the professionals who, by perpetuating the erroneous belief autism is by definition a lifelong disorder, do a disservice to those who might benefit from interventions aimed at addressing core symptoms of autism.
Treating Autism Trustees

<p>Our charity, Treating Autism, has close to a thousand member families. Many of them have seen incredible changes in their children with ASD diagnoses when using appropriate interventions. Some of these children have completely recovered, and no one, regardless of their expertise in autism, would see any traces of their former diagnoses. This type of recovery is still fairly rare, although in a survey conducted of our members, some of whom are adults with ASD treating themselves, 95% of respondents said that interventions had proven beneficial, and 24% responded that biomedical treatments had been 'life-changing'.</p>
<p>We know however that the sort of 'optimal outcomes' discussed in Fein's research would be a lot more common if people with autism and their families were given the sorts of support--medical and otherwise--that they need, and if professionals were basing their actions on the fact that ASD is not necessarily a life-long diagnosis. Sadly, the vast majority of these families receive little to no appropriate help.&nbsp; We hope, for the sake of our children, many of whom are now adults, that this study and other current research will be taken seriously by the professionals who, by perpetuating the erroneous belief autism is by definition a lifelong disorder, do a disservice to those who might benefit from interventions aimed at addressing core symptoms of autism.<br />&nbsp;<br />Treating Autism Trustees</p>

share