The vast majority of youngsters with autism may be “doing well” in at least some aspect of their lives by the time they reach mid-childhood, researchers say.

In a study looking at how 272 kids on the spectrum fared between the ages of 2 and 10, researchers found that 80% made gains in at least one area.

The study published recently in the journal JAMA Open assessed the children’s growth and proficiency in five domains: communication, socialization, activities of daily living, internalizing and externalizing. Remarkably, 23% of the kids were doing well in four or all five of the areas researchers looked at by age 10.

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“It was encouraging to find that most ASD children were doing well by 10 years old by some measure,” said Dr. Peter Szatmari of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto who worked on the study.

Key to the findings, the study authors said, was reframing their approach to focus on whether children were growing their skills over time rather than simply looking at their deficits.

“By using different criteria to track their development apart from those used to diagnose autism — such as ASD symptoms and cognitive ability — we were able to reframe more holistically how we conceptualized progress in the autism field,” Szatmari said. “Specifying an outcome implies that there’s an end point, whereas doing well relates to an individual’s circumstances at a particular point in their life’s journey with autism — especially important since these kids are just at the start of a journey.”

One factor that did appear to influence how well a child did was their socioeconomic status. Those from higher income households with better family functioning were more likely to be doing well, the study found.

“There is no one way of doing well, but these findings open up a new avenue of research to assess what types of specific interventions, such as providing more income resources or alternative treatment planning for families at an earlier stage of development, may help increase the likelihood that more children with ASD will do well over time,” Szatmari said.

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