Have you heard about the study that appears to indicate that some children who have an autism spectrum disorder might outgrow it? I’ve been reading up on it. It appears that this is more likely to happen with kids who have high functioning autism and who have had years of intensive therapy and support. Even under those circumstances, there is no guarantee that a child will outgrow the disorder.
When I hear news articles that say that children might outgrow autism, it makes me fearful. I worry that some parents will hear that news and presume that their child will grow up “normal” even if they do nothing at all (or use so-called forms of autism therapy that have been proven ineffective). I have concerns that school districts will use this news as a reason to withhold autism therapy from students who attend their public schools.
Can a child really outgrow an autism spectrum disorder? A recent study that was done by researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the UK indicates that some children might outgrow an autism diagnosis. The study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
The study is not conclusive, and experts urge caution. There is a lot more work that needs to be done before researchers can discover what might explain the findings.
Another, similar, study was led by Dr. Deborah Fein, and her team of researchers, at the University of Connecticut. This study involved 34 children who had “optimal outcome”. This means these children were diagnosed with autism when they were in early childhood. However, when they got older, they appeared to be functioning as well as their peers who did not have autism.
What changed? Researchers don’t yet know. What they do know is that the children who appeared to outgrow their autism all had high-functioning autism.
Dr. Judith Gould is the director of the National Autistic Society’s Lorna Wing Center for Autism. She had this to say about the study:
The study is looking at a small sample of high functioning people with autism and we would urge people not to jump to conclusions about the nature and complexity of autism, as well as its longevity.
With intensive therapy and support, it’s possible for a small sub-group of high functioning individuals with autism to learn coping behaviors and strategies which would ‘mask’ their underlying condition and change their scoring in the diagnostic tests used to determine their condition in this research.
Image by Becky Wetherington on Flickr