Most children with autism see improvements as they grow up, but new research suggests that a select group is experiencing more dramatic progress than others.
In a study of nearly 7,000 California children with autism, researchers found that about 1 in 10 kids displayed rapid improvement over just a couple of childhood years. The so-called “bloomers” were able to transition from being severely affected by autism to high functioning, researchers at Columbia University reported online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Significantly, those behind the study said children were more likely to bloom if they did not have intellectual disability and if their moms were more educated individuals from non-minority backgrounds.
The study was based on data collected by the California Department of Developmental Services on children born between 1992 and 2001 who were diagnosed with autistic disorder. Kids with related conditions like Asperger’s syndrome were not included.
Researchers looked at assessments of social, communication and repetitive behavior functioning for each of the children over time. Many kids saw varying degrees of improvement in social and communication skills, but fewer changes were seen overall in repetitive behaviors.
Despite any improvements, all of the kids in the study retained their autism diagnosis.
“I think this is a hopeful message that most children do improve over time and some improve quite rapidly,” said the study’s lead author Christine Fountain of Columbia University.
However, Fountain added that much more needs to be understood about what types of treatment or experiences lead some children to see greater progress — something that could not be deciphered from the data her team relied on — especially given the socioeconomic disparities uncovered.