Some Outgrow Autism, Study Finds
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.
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“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.”