More Than A Third With ASD Lose Diagnosis By Age 6, Study Finds
New research suggests that nearly 40% of children diagnosed with autism as toddlers may no longer qualify for the label within a few years.
The findings come from a study published this month in the journal JAMA Pediatrics that looked at 213 children who received a clinical diagnosis of autism between 12 and 36 months. Researchers then conducted diagnostic assessments on the kids when they were ages 5 to 7.
During the follow-up testing, 79 of the children — or 37.1% — no longer met the diagnostic criteria for autism, the study found.
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All of the children had received some type of intervention, with 94% participating in an autism-specific intervention such as applied behavior analysis. Girls and those with higher level adaptive skills like communication, self-care and decision-making at the start were most likely to shed their diagnosis, according to the findings.
“It is important to recognize that diagnoses can evolve as a child develops,” said Dr. Elizabeth Harstad, a developmental medicine physician at Boston Children’s Hospital who led the study. “Our research shows how important it is that we monitor kids over time, because some children may really have changes in their social communication and behavioral function. This underscores the need for continuous assessments and adaptable intervention strategies.”
Autism experts have pushed for years to get children diagnosed at younger ages to speed access to interventions which are known to improve outcomes. But, while the condition can reliably be identified by age 2, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that many children are not diagnosed until much later.
The study did not find a meaningful association between the intensity of interventions that a child received and their odds of keeping their autism diagnosis, but the researchers said that more study is needed to understand the role that intervention may have played in helping kids outgrow their diagnosis.
“It is possible that children who no longer have autism at age 6 may have responded better to treatment than children whose autism persisted,” said Dr. William Barbaresi, chief of developmental medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital and a senior author of the study. “The findings of the study should cause a very frank reconsideration of the need for far more research to understand if current treatment for autism is working, or if major new efforts to develop treatment approaches are needed.”
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