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Study Hints At Why Some Outgrow Autism Diagnosis


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Some kids with autism lose the label as they age. Now a new study is helping to explain why the diagnosis sticks around for some and not others.

Researchers looked at parent-reported data on more than 1,300 children ages 3 to 17 with a current or previous autism diagnosis. About one-third of the children had been diagnosed with autism, but were no longer considered to have the disorder, according to the study published Monday online in the journal Pediatrics.

What set the two groups of children apart was whether or not a child had other co-occurring psychiatric or developmental disorders in addition to autism, the researchers found. In fact, those who retained their autism diagnosis as they got older were more likely to have two or more co-occurring conditions, they said.

The other conditions affecting kids who retained an autism diagnosis often included learning disabilities, developmental delay, speech problems, anxiety and seizures.

It’s unclear why some children lose their autism diagnosis as they get older, the researchers said. It could be because they were misdiagnosed in the first place or because early intervention was successful.

“Core features of ASDs are often similar in presentation to commonly diagnosed co-occurring conditions,” the researchers wrote. “As the child grows older, it is likely that symptoms become clearer to medical professionals and that a more accurate diagnosis for the presentation of symptoms is more consistent with ASD… This can also be true in the opposite direction, in which a child might have been diagnosed with an ASD because of the presence of common ASD co-occurring conditions or diagnoses and then was later reclassified as not having an ASD.”

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Comments (34 Responses)

  1. msamericanpatriot says:

    This is a joke. You do NOT outgrow autism. You learn coping skills that make it a LOT less obvious to the untrained individual. This study is laughable as hell.

  2. fairlady68 says:

    It could be that what we call autism/Asperger’s has so many different faces that some forms of it go away under certain conditions and some don’t. What interests me as a 54-year-old female who was diagnosed in middle age is how the condition evolves over the lifespan. Some issues that bothered me in my youth seem to have diminished or resolved, while others have either gotten worse or only recently started to be a problem as I have gotten older.

  3. Kathy C says:

    Diagnoses are as subjective as the symptoms presented and the person reviewing them. My own children have had an assortment of such labels over the years. Even physical diagnoses can be amended if someone achieves wellness or otherwise finds ways of overcoming the impact that a designation has on their life. We are all more than our difficulties and problems. Part of realizing that is seeing the positive–carrying awareness that all of our lives take work and doing (“no problem”)–and that it helps to have caring support from others. ~ Blessings!

  4. momtotwo says:

    Biomedical intervention is why children “outgrow autism”. My child had no language, a whole host of sensory and stimulatory behaviors until we treated the co-morbid conditions associated with an autism diagnosis. Autism symptoms disappeared when we treated the gastrointestinal, methylation, and immune issues. Time to differentiate the types of autisms we are dealing with and get these kids treated. I know tons of families with autism and not one of those children has “outgrown” autism without biomedical intervention. Parents, there is real help now available

  5. Diane Chachere says:

    I must admit to being skeptical! It comes awfully close on the heels of the report proposing to redefine autism.

  6. Annee says:

    A whole lot of problems were created when people started lumping all sorts of symptoms and conditions into the catch-all “autism spectrum”. We need to go back and sort out each condition by its PREDOMINANT or exclusive symptoms. How can any real progress be made as long as we continue to generalize the diagnosis? True autism is unmistakeable and severe. One cannot outgrow it and treatments may make it only slightly more bearable. Aspergers and other conditions like it are a different story, and is a area I think may have future treatments. I believe that if someone appears to have outgrown autism, one of two things are in play. Either they never had autism, or they were mis-diagnosed with it do to certain symptoms which have now disappeared .

  7. kim vanblaricum says:

    My son has PDD. It took a long time to get him diagnosed because of his other conditions. He still has serious issues at 14, and can not be in a regular school. These comments about how easy it is to get a diagnosis is a joke. I know plenty of other parents that have had the same issue as me. Some of the kids even have classical autism. One of the main problems is that insurance companies do not want to pay for anything that deals with autism.

  8. Bob_in_NYC says:

    I agree with msamericanpatriot. While I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 57, I know that most people couldn’t recognize autism in me. When I was young, I simply withdrew and didn’t interact much with people. As I got older, I forced myself to talk even if it was uncomfortable … and I got pretty good at it. My opinion is that for a significant portion of people on the autism spectrum do adapt with time to “fit in” and while we may never be perfect at it, we can “pass”. To this day, my sister won’t accept the fact that I’m autistic since I’m “not like that”.

  9. Anonymousmom says:

    Agree w/MsAmericanpatriot – you do NOT outgrow it, just learn to conceal to get by in a cruel neurotypical world. :/

  10. Colors says:

    Awareness surrounding the notion of the potential for occasional misdiagnosis of disorders is healthy. I am left however, questioning the root intent of why such articles are written. <-(not meant as a slam on disabilty scoop… honestly wondering on this from a broad sense). With all the buzz of the new DSM & the autism definition controversy it's hard not to feel like there is a push to manipulate the public to avoid future economic impact related to the increase of autism diagnoses.

  11. Charlie says:

    I’ll bet they lose their diagnosis because they adapt. Wear the same clothes every day and no one will notice that you are there, (unless you don’t wash them). Keep all of the same routines and there will be fewer nasty surprises. Find a niche that you can fill and no one will notice that you are around. When you do find something that interests you, than go all out.

    But always, always, keep your cards close to your chest. Fewer people will ridicule you if you do.

  12. Johannes says:

    It makes sense that when you have other conditions and biomedical problems, that you have little energy left to deal with the world and to try to fit in. As an occupational therapist in the school system I often see that kids who move in from other districts dramatically improve in 3-6 months. Of course the first 3 months they were under stress so we did not see the true picture. My first job fresh out of school was at Bellevue Hospital in NYC at the pediatric nursery. Even then I marveled at the variety of behaviors all under the umbrella of autism (Kanner’s syndrome 1943) and very similar but equally varied were those with childhood schizophrenia (:Loretta Bender 1934). Some kids improved thanks to the guidance I received from Elsbeth Pfeiffer from Bankstreet College, others did not improve. Walking through the high school I see kids who at three were diagnosed as severely autistic and now do not stand out, and I see students who despite all efforts still act basically the same as 13 years ago. Yes they have learned to read and dress themselves but they still have severe autism and cannot function independently..

  13. Tacitus says:

    Annee — the problems were already there. The original definitions of autism all agreed with the inclusion of people who are only just now becoming eligible for diagnosis. Then the definitions and their application were radically redacted to include only people who may even have been too “low functioning” to have been in the original studies, where the term “autism” was first applied. You need to scale back your literacy regarding autism conspiracy theories, and scale it up regarding the actual psychiatric literature.

  14. John Makin says:

    Some of us with Asperger’s learn to cope with our symptoms and hide them, but, as in my own case, another event may strip away those coping mechanisms leaving the Asperger’s in plain view.

  15. autismUXB says:

    This is disturbing. If you grow out of autism, you were not autistic in the first place.

  16. Jennifer says:

    As someone who has Asperger’s, I may be able to pass as typical during the day, but it isn’t easy. At the end of the day, acting “normal” is just that: an act.

  17. brie says:

    this is nuts , i think these people didnt have autism to start with , my son is 21 and still clapping , i think maybe they have slowed down a bit as they get older and have gone to school were they are told not to run away anymore and we are getting better at handling them with charts and rewards systems and medication has helped , i think when they are young and wiggling out of your arms like crazy its so hard , but cured not by a long shot , still have to bath him , dress him , hold his hand so he doesnt get hit by a car and the eatting habits havent changed , I think i am just use to it now !!!!!

  18. Gail says:

    I think we have more control of our environment as we get older. My daughter struggled in the forced high school regimen, it didn’t work for her. Now that she. An choose her college classes and teachers the stress is lower and she feels successful for the first time.

  19. Theophano says:

    You either have autism, or you don’t. You can’t outgrow it. You do learn to ‘cope’. Many aspies, especially the girls, learn to be actors. We mimic the behaviors of the so called ‘normal’ kids around us. This does not make us ‘not autistic’. In fact, having to put on such an act all the time is very taxing. When I am at work, it gets exhausting forcing myself to be social, acting like I care about the office gossip when I really could care less and would much rather discuss what I saw on History Channel the previous evening. If professionals can’t see pass the act, then why are they even in the profession? My brain still opperates and processes things the same way it did when I was thought to been acting more like a person on the spectrum.

    Your kid does not grow out of it. The difficulties DO NOT go away. We learn how to mask things, hide them, to make the ‘normal’ people feel better about being around us. And the whole time we feel miserable because we have to put on an act to be accepted instead of being allowed to freely be ourselves. Sorry for the rant.

  20. Glen S says:

    I love the adults who anonymously post on this board. They want government services from cradle to grave instead of learning to function, get jobs, and have a life.

  21. msamericanpatriot says:


    Excuse me but some of us would like to get jobs and get a life but society has holdups about us doing that. They would rather hire illegal aliens rather than make reasonable accommodations for people with autism. There is a LOT of stigma attached to people with autism. But since society does NOT want to get to know us or go out of their way to do so, we are stuck where we are. You are very very inconsiderate of that fact.

  22. Glen S says:

    As usual msamericanpatriot attempts to hide behind her anonymity to make a vain political point. Instead of bettering herself, she would blame others and demand benefits she has admitted she would deny others. In short, go get a job! The only one stopping you is you and your mouth.

  23. Glen S says:

    Thank you, msamericanpatriot, for demonstrating my point better than I could have ever articulated it.

  24. Theophano says:

    @ Glenn

    I HAVE a job!! I got it because I GOT HELP!! Many with autism, especially those with asperger’s recieve none! It’s not because they don’t want them or have no skill set. It is not because they are just lazy and are looking for a handout. They want the HELP so that they can get the job so they don’t have to take handouts anymore!! How is this a difficult concept to understand?

    Until you are actually on the spectrum, you’ll never understand why getting a job is not as simple as it is for someone like yourself. So please keep the rude comments to yourself.

  25. Glen S says:

    Assistance is just that: a temporary often one time attempt to help another. Government assistance is not meant to be cradle to grave. Msamericanpatriot, to whom my posts were most directed, has stated on numerous occasions that, although she is a middle aged adult, she should receive continual support from the government. Although she is an adult and can actually get a job, she would deny others who have great disability than she the same privilege. If one is capable, one should get a job.

  26. Maria says:

    It is clear everyone has a passionate response to this. I have a 26 year old son –that had he been born in the last 10 years, would be diagnosed with Aspergers. I have another child, 10 who is diagnosed with Autism. She is “high functioning” now but at 5 she had no language and many behaviors. The “trial” of diet changes has made the most dramatic affect as well as the intensive 1:1 by ME. I have home schooled her since then, she has attended school a few times, but they want to lump all the children with autism together and not give them the individual attention. I think children can learn to “mask” their difficulties. They can learn to adapt, but that doesn’t mean their difficulties go away. Without the early 1:1 intensive services they will not “out grow” the diagnosis and won’t even be able to function independently.

    I don’t believe most are just misdiagnosed or never had it in the first place. that is a terrible thing to say.

  27. Cynthia Weinand says:

    You have not considered that those who appear to “grow out” the Autism diagnosis may have had intensive early ABA intervention. These individuals have worked incredibly hard with therapists, educators and family members (often in excess of 25 hours per week). Perhaps it is unfair to say they were “misdiagnosed” when it may be the case that they received the right care at the right time. Think of cancer. A patient may have the right radiation treatment which eradicates a certain cancer. Does that mean that the patient never had it?

  28. Rosanna says:

    I agree with many of the posts. I was the top of my class at a small town high school. After gym my friends would comb my hair because I was totally oblivious to what I looked like or how I dressed. I did not talk to anyone because I didn’t know what to say or understand small talk. I was easily confused by social situations. I had one close friend. I thought boys were people, not projects. Never dated or wanted to. I was oblivious to all but the non-obvious. I saw things happening between people that they were unaware of. I knew who was hurting and who was mean. I seldom spoke.
    When I began reading Autism Speaks the pieces came together and I was able to move forward.
    I am socially awkward, but am improving because I am okay with how I am. I feel competent now and sure of myself and can face social situations although I avoid them.

  29. Wayne Haufler says:

    This is very interesting. My 16 year old son has been diagnosed with a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome, and some of his behaviors and characteristics remind me of myself at his age, in the 1970s. Might I have unknowingly had Asperger’s? With an introverted nature, extraordinary shyness, and a willful blindness to clues that any girl liked me, I did not date until after college graduation. I credit for breaking me out of my shell, counseling therapy, group therapy, Carnegie training (social skills), and ongoing Toastmasters practice, as well as a slowly growing maturity and self-confidence. Was that me, outgrowing Asperger’s? I guess we will never know, as my teen self is no longer available for diagnoses.

  30. SteveR says:

    This is nonsense! You cannot “outgrow” autism. These children were just misdiagnosed — they never had autism to begin with. Some young children just have developmental delays — it does not make them “autistic.” Autism is the current flavor of the month diagnosis and it it much overused –just like ADD was a decade ago.

  31. Alex says:

    I would just like to say that some people may outgrow certain symptoms of autism because I am high functioning autistic and most of the symptoms I had as a child don’t happen anymore

  32. Victor Cheng says:

    People say you can’t grow out of autism. I don’t believe this because I have a close relative who did. Behavioural intervention, ageing and perhaps some treatments that were relevant to him.

    In middle ages, people said you can’t grow out of plague. In 18th and 19th century, people said the same thing about TB. I am positively optimistic that modern treatment can make a difference and within this decade autism can be successfully intervened if not treated fully.

  33. Thatsnothowitworks says:

    Had to respond to the following comment:

    “This is a joke. You do NOT outgrow autism. You learn coping skills that make it a LOT less obvious to the untrained individual. This study is laughable as hell.”

    I’m afraid the above comment reveals a lack of understanding of the DSM and how the diagnosis is given. Autism, like most DSM diagnoses, is really a term that describes a constellation of symptoms that are given the name autism. There is no blood test or brain scan that a person could have performed that confirms an autism diagnosis in the absence of autism symptoms. In this way, mental disorders differ from a disease like cancer where you could have no apparent symptoms and yet a scan/biopsy/blood test could show that you have cancer. If a person exhibits enough autism symptoms as outined in the DSM, they are diagnosed as autistic. Now the symptoms described under the name autism change over time (look at the various versions of the DSM), so the same person could lose or gain an autism diagnosis simply through pubication of a new version of the DSM where the parameters are changed. Furthermore, since the term autism really just describes a constellation of symptoms, losing the symptoms equates with losing the diagnosis.

    Autism has been incorrectly reified in the popular imagination as a stable, immutable disease, but the history of psychiatry and the DSM suggests otherwise. You might compare it to depression in so far as you cannot be diagnosed with depression in the absence of any symptoms of depression.

  34. Thatsnothowitworks says:

    I also want to add that I agree with the many posts suggesting autism is being massively overdiagnosed. Do we really have to pathologize every minute divergence from what the architects of the DSM decide is “normal”. Being a genius is not normal in the true sense of the word, perhaps the DSM VI will find a way to pathologize that. I see an “excessive intelligence syndrome” in the works . . .

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