Some children 'grow out of autism', study of 34 children finds
on 15/01/2013 18:52:50
Experts studied 34 school-age children and young adults who had been diagnosed with autism early in life but now appeared to be functioning normally.
Tests confirmed that the group, aged eight to 21, no longer suffered symptoms of the developmental condition that makes it difficult to communicate and socialise.
The results, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, provide no estimate of the proportion of children likely to recover from autism.
Dr Thomas Insel, director of the US National Institute of Mental Health which supported the study, said: "Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes.
"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 out come for these children."
Previous studies looking at the likelihood of autism recovery have proved inconclusive.
Questions remained over the accuracy of the original diagnosis, and whether children who appeared to grow up functioning normally started out with mild forms of the condition.
For the new study, early diagnostic reports by clinicians were reviewed by a team of expert investigators.
The results suggested that recovering children tended to have relatively milder social difficulties early in life, but they were likely to suffer more severe symptoms relating to communication and repetitive behaviour.
The research team, led by Dr Deborah Fein, from the University of Connecticut, compared the 34 "optimal outcome" participants with the same number of normally functioning peers and 44 children and young adults affected by high-functioning autism. Each group was matched by age, sex, and non-verbal IQ.
Optimal outcome individuals showed no signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication or social interaction despite their previous diagnosis of autism.
The researchers are continuing to analyse data on changes in brain function in the children.
They are also reviewing records of the kinds of treatment the children received, and to what extent they may have contributed to their recovery, as well as the role played by IQ.
"All children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) 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 Dr Fein.
"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."
Dr Judith Gould of the British National Autistic Society said: "Autism is a lifelong disability affecting the way that people communicate and interact with others.
"This 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 its longevity.
"With intensive therapy and support, it's possible for a small sub group of high functioning individuals with autism to learn coping behaviours and strategies which would 'mask' their underlying condition, and change their scoring in the diagnostic tests used to determine their condition in this research.
"This research acknowledges that a diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time and it is important to recognise the support that people with autism need in order to live the lives of their choosing."