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Some Outgrow Autism, Study Finds

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Some people diagnosed with autism in childhood appear to lose all symptoms of the developmental disorder with age, researchers said Tuesday.

In a small, government-funded study, researchers said they identified 34 people with a confirmed diagnosis of autism in early life who years later are performing on par with their typically-developing peers.

The study did not uncover the reason why certain children made a turnaround. But those behind the research say they plan to further examine brain functioning and review records on any interventions the kids received to learn how they were able to shed the autism label.

“Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes,” said Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism and the role of therapy and other factors in the long term outcome for these children.”

For the study, researchers looked at 34 individuals ages 8 to 21 who lost their autism symptoms as compared to 34 similarly-aged people with high-functioning autism and 34 typically-developing peers. Clinical records for members of all three groups were assessed to confirm the diagnoses.

What’s more, the study participants were evaluated more recently using cognitive and observational tests and parent questionnaires. All of the individuals who outgrew their autism diagnosis displayed no issues with language, face recognition, communication or social interaction, researchers reported in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Those who outgrew their diagnosis appear to be in the minority, however, researchers said, with most people retaining their autism diagnosis for life. Investigators said they were not able to assess what percentage of children with autism are likely to lose their symptoms over time.

“All children with ASD are capable of making progress with intensive therapy, but with our current state of knowledge most do not achieve the kind of optimal outcome that we are studying,” said Deborah Fein of the University of Connecticut, Storrs who led the study. “Our hope is that further research will help us better understand the mechanisms of change so that each child can have the best possible life.”

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Comments (20 Responses)

  1. Zoe Thompson says:

    It would be interesting to know what tests they used to assess social interaction and also whether they measured adaptive behaviour. I know people who no longer meet the criteria for autism (on the ADOS) yet are still very rigid in their thinking, with high levels of anxiety.

  2. Amy C. says:

    Citation for this study, please? I don’t find anything online in the “Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.” Quite honestly, I find it hard to believe this would get published as a peer reviewed study.

  3. JK says:

    Could you please post a link to (or reference for) the original article?

    Thanks.

  4. Betsy Brazy says:

    Sheesh! Autism isn’t a set of clothing that one outgrows with development. A person doesn’t “outgrow” autism, dyslexia, or handedness. However a person can learn strategies that minimize a debilitating condition.

  5. Stacey Auger says:

    Outgrow – does not equal “Recovered”. Poorly constructed study – shoddy research. More than highly likely that those who “outgrew” their diagnosis, engaged in thousands of hours of therapy and and massive amounts of biomedical intervention. Autism is an auto immune disease, a medical condition – it is treatable; therapy – nutritional supplements – a toxin free environment and avoiding Genetically Modified foods, a whole food diet and retraining the brain & body.
    The smartest people in the room, numerous Nobel Laureates including Mario Cappechi, now agree that these symptoms have a physical root cause, and are treatable.
    Too bad the investigators didn’t do any real investigating when attempting to determine the number of children who will lose their symptoms over time. It is the same number who adopt biomedical intervention programs-those who treat it as a medical disease. This isn’t a new treatment approach – just one that nobody is willing to fund the research on or take a closer look at. Because it won’t put a penny into the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry.
    No one diagnosed with Autism just “loses” their symptoms or out grows them. This study is an insult to the parents and family members who are fighting this war every day of their lives.

  6. Birgit Fisher says:

    34 individuals? That’s not a study, that’s a joke. None of those 34 received ANY intervention either? No speech? PT? OT? Social skills? AIT? Sensory integration?

  7. Elizabeth D says:

    @Stacey Auger; very well said, you are right on all counts. Just reading the headline of this article irritates me. “Outgrow,” what the hell does that mean? Sounds like something my dismissive in-laws would say. “oh, she’s outgrowing it!” (yes, after thousands of hours of therapy and thousands of dollars spent on DAN! doctors and treatments, she is “outgrowing” it.

  8. Su Hoyle says:

    Two thoughts on this one: the possibility that the initial diagnosis of autism was inaccurate, and the possibility that competency in the skills tested has been achieved through mastery of related strategies (while the neurological component of autism remains). If it’s the latter, would it be correct to say that autism has been “outgrown”? How about “the challenging elements of autism have been ‘outmaneuvered’”?

  9. JK says:

    In case anyone wanted to see the actual paper and base their judgments on the study itself…

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpp.12037/full

  10. NYCBob says:

    If there was a way to determine autism that wasn’t dependent on subjective observations then the study might be interesting. However since that’s not the case, I think that the only thing that the study shows is that for subset of individuals that “appear” autistic, some will lose that appearance and would therefore “lose” the diagnosis of autism. It doesn’t say much more than that … I doubt that there was any way to determine there were changes to the underlying way the brain works.

    For myself, I was probably born autistic (either because of family genetics or hypoxia suffered during my birth) and didn’t start speaking until about 4 years old. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 57 and while I have the mentioned “symptoms”, they are not very apparent to people during casual interactions.

    I never outgrew my autism, but I did a pretty good job of hiding my symptoms and trying to “fit in” without any special interventions (except maybe my mother being a little overprotective). I can hide my symptoms and overcome a lot of the drawbacks, but my mental processing is still autistic.

    What is most important is to know that some people can adapt and make adjustments as they grow so that they can lead a fulfilling life.

  11. JonnieJo L. McDaniel says:

    My son was diagnosed with ASD at age 4…he now is 14. He has made leaps and bounds in his progress to the point school officials have actually argued with his healthcare providers at Kennedy Krieger Children’s Institute that he doesn’t fit the diagnosis at all. Yet, he just recently (finally) underwent Neuropsych testing that yet again confirmed the diagnosis. He may have outgrown some of the symptoms or have learned to compensate for others. He still might make further miraculous progress to the point that no symptoms can be noted. As a parent, that would be a wish come true: that he not suffer from ANY symptom that sets him aside from “mainstream normal”…

  12. Peneloipe Brennell says:

    You don’t “outgrow” autism. You just learn how to live amoung the idiots of the world (of which I am one). They’re just using the same criteria to “remove” diagnoses from teens who are clearly still on the spectrum. What a huge waste of money and really OUTGROW AUTISM!!!!

  13. Treating Autism says:

    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

  14. Thomas_Wood_Salem_NH says:

    There is no such thing as “outgrowing” Autism.
    I never did, & I am age 54.
    I also never “outgrew” Mild Cerebral Palsy either.

  15. VMGillen says:

    “Diagnosis” is defined by Merriam-Webster as as “the art or act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms.”
    “Etiology” is “the cause or causes of a disease or abnormal condition”

    There is NO etiology for Autism – the “diagnosis” is a construct by the APA, created primarily to facilitate insurance billings, as well as research. We don’t know what causes it. Autism is a collection of symptoms which could be caused by a number of factors, ranging from lead exposure to stroke… this highlights the problem beautifully. Unfortunately, it will simply result in more searches for “cures” without the necessary discover of etiologies, so once again we will hear about the miracle cure that does not work universally, leading to further atomization and acrimony of and in the ASD community. Feh.

  16. GP says:

    Using the term “outgrow” in the headline and peppered in the article is dangerous and deceptive. The study you linked to does not say “outgrow” it says “lose the diagnosis.” This is an example of journalism at it’s worst and people whose job it is to write for disabilities should be even more responsible than this. Why does it make a difference? To outgrow something implies that it is done naturally and with no intervention. “Outgrow” is a word many parents of children with Autism have heard in conjunction with symptoms before our children were finally diagnosed and given the interventions they needed all along.

    In reality losing a diagnosis is the opposite of this. It’s done through intense interventions and a lot of hard work. Does it mean that person never had Autism? No. Does it mean that person no longer has Autism? NO. It means that the interventions worked and they learned to think around it to the point that they no longer outwardly exhibit enough obstacles to fit the criteria.

    Shame on you, Disability Scoop, for joining the ranks of irresponsible journalists who use misleading terms to pull in readers. My respect for you has fallen.

  17. Tacitus says:

    As is evidenced by the comments on this article, most of the “etiologies” floating around the “autism” community are simply made up out of whole cloth. Stroke? Genetically modified organisms? As if. Autism research has been hamstringed by conspiracy theorists and paid shills who lack either the interest or the ability to conduct genuine research.

  18. Lauri Khodabandehloo says:

    Please read an article titled, “Autism diagnosis boom an ‘epidemic of discovery’ by Alan Zarembo (McCLATCHY TRIBUNE) for pertinent information on why some, although given an “autism” diagnosis, seem to grow older and be like “typical” young persons. Many reasons for what “seems” like some “outgrow” their diagnosis..though autism still remains a “Neuro-biological brain dysfunction” with at present, no known cure. My past 31 years have been dedicated to finding a treatment, a solution, or a cure for this disorder for which there is great hope for all with its diagnosis..and we must all look forward with much optimism!!

  19. A dad says:

    Individuals DO NOT outgrow autism. They work incredibly hard, receive therapy and medical treatment unique to their needs to OVERCOME autism

  20. Lucia Bevilacqua says:

    Unpopular opinion: I’m outgrowing my autism, and I’m terrified.

    For so long, I felt ashamed, living in a society that stigmatizes and pathologizes my neurotype. Soon, though, I made strides in accepting that part of my identity and finding comfort in the Autistic community. I am an autism advocate, fighting and dreaming to be recognized in this culture. If my mental state keeps changing, though, it’ll all be for nothing. I don’t know who I’ll be.

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