New research findings suggest there are a number of probable outcomes
Today’s headlines seem to be spreading like wildfire over the media as a new report is released suggesting that some children who are accurately diagnosed with autism in early childhood lose the symptoms and diagnosis as they grew older, leaving some wondering if this is really possible.
Dr. Thomas R. Insel, MD, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), states “Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes.” He further explains that for an individual child with autism the result may be clear only with time and after interventions for some time. 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,” states Dr. Insel.
According to the study’s background autism is generally considered a lifelong disability. It underlines the fact that “literature suggests that a minority of individuals with an ASD will lose the diagnosis. However, the existence of this phenomenon, as well as its frequency and interpretation, is still controversial: were they misdiagnosed initially, is this a rare event, did they lose the full diagnosis, but still suffer significant social and communication impairments or did they lose all symptoms of ASD and function socially within the normal range?”
Dr. Deborah A. Fein , PhD, professor , Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut ,Storms , Department of Pediatrics, University of Connecticut, Farmington, and lead author of study along with colleagues recruited 34 optimal outcome children who had received a diagnosis of autism in early life and were now reportedly functioning no differently than their mainstream peers and compared their functioning on standardized measures to age, sex, and nonverbal IQ matched individuals with high-functioning autism, 44 children and typical development children, 34. Age range eight to twenty-one years. In this study “optimal outcome” requires losing all symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in addition to the diagnosis, and functioning within the non-autistic range of social interaction and communication. Domains explored include language, face recognition, socialization, communication, and autism symptoms, according to the study’s background methods.
Past studies have examined the possible loss of diagnosis, but questions remained in regards to the accuracy of the initial diagnosis. For this study researchers removed the questioning of diagnosis by using early diagnosis reports by clinicians who are experts in autism diagnosis. In a second step accuracy a diagnostic expert (that had no knowledge of the children’s current status) reviewed reports in which the earlier diagnosis had been deleted.
The results revealed the children in the optimal outcome group (OO) and the typical development group (TD) had mean scores that were alike on socialization, communication, face recognition, or most language subscales. They did note that three of the children in the OO group did have below average scores on face recognition. Early in their development, the OO group displayed milder symptoms than the high functioning autism group (HFA) but both groups had equal severe difficulties in communication and repetitive behavior.
In their conclusion the researchers write “Although possible deficits in more subtle aspects of social interaction or cognition are not ruled out, the results substantiate the possibility of OO from autism spectrum disorders and demonstrate an overall level of functioning within normal limits for this group.”
In closing Dr. Fein states “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.” “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.”
This study appears in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Where is the theory of ‘growing out of autism” coming from?
In study that appeared in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had written that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) several neurodevelopmental signs and symptoms which overlap other conditions and it is possible that some early ASD diagnoses are wrong, especially among children who no longer meet the criteria for ASD as they get older.
The research team looked at cross-sectional data of 1366 children with a parent-reported current and consistent or past but not current (PBNC) diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and how such characteristics and conditions may engender a change in diagnosis of an ASD.
The study compared children who had had a diagnosis of ASD at age 3 to 5 years with the same children when they were older who still had an ASD diagnosis, and those who did not.
In their conclusion they had wrote; “These findings suggest that the presence of co-occurring psychiatric and neurodevelopmental conditions are associated with a change in ASD diagnosis. Questions remain as to whether changes in diagnosis of an ASD are due to true etiologic differences or shifts in diagnostic determination.” In medicine, etiology refers to the many factors coming together to cause an illness.
Dr. Joseph Horrigan, MD, FAACAP, assistant vice president, head of medical research of autism Speaks, related to Web MD about the study “It illustrates, again, the fact that there are some common co-occurring disorders that do occur in young individuals with autism and they’re relatively frequent. And this is another way of getting some insight into how frequent they are.”
According to Dr. Horrigan stated that the study shed some light on the differences between those kids diagnosed with autism who will see their symptoms improve and those who do not, remarking that the study is noteworthy.
Dr. Horrigan adds caution that the research cannot say a lot about why some people’s symptoms become milder over time while others still continue to qualify for the diagnosis of autism.
Dr. Horrigan sums it up when it comes to the phrase of “growing out” of autism by stating “It doesn’t really get into that notion of how does the pattern change for an individual, or what sort of things might have happened that may have been associated with a change,” like medication, or early, intensive behavioral therapy’, according to Web MD.
Do people “grow out of autism”? Not according to the Geneva Center for Autism. They state the fact is “People do not “grow out” of autism Spectrum Disorders but with early intervention and good educational programs progress may be significantly better.”
More information on autism can be viewed online at Autism Speaks.