Recovery From Autism: New Scientific Evidence Of Optimal Outcomes

There is a long history of reports of small numbers of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experiencing recovery – meaning they no longer met diagnostic criteria. While such claims have generated controversy over the years, a new study provides the best scientific evidence documenting recovery from ASD in a small number of individuals. 

A team of researchers (led by Dr. Deborah Fein at the University of Connecticut) identified 34 individuals with suspected recovery who had a clear documented history of ASD, but no longer met diagnostic criteria for it. By comparing this group to two other groups – a high-functioning ASD group (44 individuals), and a typical development group without ASD (34 individuals) – the study reported these two key findings:

  • The 34 potential recovery cases not only no longer met criteria for ASD, but in fact lost all symptoms of ASD
  • Their social and communicative functioning was within the nonautistic range (and as a group similar to the typical development group)

The study authors suggested the phrase “optimal outcome” for these individuals to convey the idea that their overall functioning across multiple domains was in the normative range. There was a wide age range in the sample – from 8 to 21 years – and the conclusion was that some children with a diagnosis and history of autism may in fact go on to experience an optimal outcome later in development.

More reports will come in the future from this research group on this sample. In particular, they will be analyzing collected data on intervention history to see if there were commonalities in those who experienced an optimal outcome. They will also be looking at psychiatric data to examine the possibility that some with optimal outcome experience anxiety, depression, and impulsivity. Based on the data published to date, the group with optimal outcomes were reported to have milder symptoms of ASD when they were younger (but only in terms of social symptoms, not communicative or repetitive behavior symptoms), and IQ scores in the high average range. But more work will be done to see if there are clear factors which are predictive of optimal outcome.

While every child with ASD will not have an optimal outcome as defined in this study, the larger message is that the developmental trajectory of kids with ASD can be modified. We’ve seen over the past year stories about how as many as 10% of youth with ASD may “bloom” by age 8 and lose many of the debilitating symptoms. A recent study reported “a small breakthrough” for some kids with ASD (achieved with the Early Start Denver Model intervention) that resulted in “typical” brain activity activated by viewing faces. The bottom line is that whether small or big steps are made via intervention, the parents and intervention specialists who put in extraordinary time and effort will improve the lives of kids with ASD. The two key considerations continue to be early diagnosis, and early intervention. To that end, it’s critical that parents know the early signs of ASD:

The 7 Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder That Every Parent Should Know 

Symbol of autism awareness via


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  1. by Web Development

    On January 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    I every time used to study piece of writing in news papers
    but now as I am a user of net thus from now I am using net for
    articles, thanks to web.

  2. by Kimberly Scanlon

    On January 31, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Just like you mentioned, early intervention is so incredibly important. Fortunately, awareness of this disorder has greatly increased in the recent years so more than ever parents are seeking treatment much sooner.

  3. by scecil

    On February 10, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    What exactly is optimal outcome?

    Even in the 1971 follow-up study to Leo Kanner’s 1943 paper 2 or the 11 ‘original’ autistic children became independent adults with jobs — part of their communities. Perhaps that is O.O.?
    Not living or dying in an institution as the other 9 is optimal I suppose.

    I find it interesting that it falls in that 10-20% as with this study.

  4. [...] There are more reports to come from this research, including collection of data  on intervention history of each individual to see if there were “commonalities” in treatment or therapy programs utilized by those who experienced an optimal outcome. In addition, psychiatric data will be evaluated “to examine the possibility that some with optimal outcome experience anxiety, depression, and impulsivity” as  the optimal outcome group was reported to have milder social symtoms of ASD when they were younger and high IQ scores. More evaluation will be done to determine the factors that contribute to an optimal outcome. Read more on about the study on Parents.  [...]