According to Autism Speaks, 1 out of every 59 children in the United States is affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD can manifest in a variety of different ways, from "challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, to speech and nonverbal communication." For years many parents assumed that when their child was diagnosed with being on the Autism spectrum that they would remain on the spectrum their whole lives. However, a new study is showing that it may be possible for children diagnosed with ASD to outgrow the diagnosis.
A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology conducted by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health Systems found that some children involved in their study who were initially diagnosed with ASD by the age of 3 were no longer symptomatic of ASD an average of 4 years later, and that news is definitely exciting for researchers.
"It's certainly encouraging to confirm that a subset of children with early ASD diagnosis accompanied by developmental delays can, in essence, recover from the disorder and go on to have typical social and cognitive functioning," Lisa Shulman, M.D., lead author of the study and professor of pediatrics at Einstein and interim director of the Rose F. Kennedy Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at Montefiore stated.
"But by and large, these children continue to struggle with daily life. Almost all of them still have to contend with language and learning disabilities and a variety of emotional and behavioral problems."
According to Science Daily, the study looked at 569 children who were diagnosed with ASD between the years 2003 and 2013. The mean age upon diagnosis was 2 1/2 years with follow up happening four years later. The study states the majority of the children received early intervention services which included "a mix of speech and occupational therapies, special instruction, and applied behavioral analysis."
As a result, 7% of the children studied, a total of 38 children, were no longer diagnosed as symptomatic of ASD at the follow-up, four years later. While they were no longer diagnosed with ASD, there were still some lingering health and developmental issues. Sixty-eight percent of the 38 children who were no longer found to have ASD did still present some language issues and learning disabilities.
Almost 50% had external behavioral issues while 24% had internal behavioral problems. Of those 38 children, 5% had a "significant mental health diagnosis." Three of the 38 children were found to have no other problems.
"Our findings beg the question, what is going on with these children who no longer have an ASD diagnosis?" said Dr. Shulman. "Was autism initially over-diagnosed? Are some children better able to respond to intervention? Does the specific intervention the child receives contribute to the outcome? Our sense is that some children with ASD respond to intervention while others have unique developmental trajectories that lead to improvement. Those children who evolve in a positive direction generally have the mildest symptoms, to begin with."
"The message from our study is that some of our kids do amazingly well, but most of them have persistent difficulties requiring ongoing monitoring and therapeutic support," said Dr. Shulman.