Can a Child “Outgrow” Autism?

Autism DiagnosisAs April is Autism Awareness MonthI am taking on some of the most frequently asked questions about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). “Can A Child ‘Outgrow’ Autism?” is one of the basic ones. A new study released earlier this year suggests that the answer is … yes.

To get to this answer, the study took on two core issues that need to be resolved:

  • Did the youth really have ASD? (Or put another way –  were they misdiagnosed initially?)
  • Did the youth fully recover? (Or put another way – did they lose all of their symptoms, or just enough to lose the diagnosis?)

This study was able to address these issues by combining the clinical resources of a number of institutions, and by using a longitudinal design that tracked kids over time. Via comparisons with two other groups of kids (one with current ASD, another without ASD) - along with rich clinical and developmental histories –  they were able to document complete recovery in 34 cases. By complete recovery, they answered the above questions as follows:

  • The youth had documented ASD earlier in life using current diagnostic criteria.
  • The youth lost all of their symptoms over time (not just some of them).

The question the study has not answered yet is what factors contributed to the complete recovery of these 34 cases. It is anticipated that a future publication will examine this.

While complete recovery is a goal for many parents, right now it is not the typical outcome for the majority of kids with ASD. That said, great strides are being made with intervention – especially early intervention. Getting kids diagnosed early and using that as a platform for early intervention will always lead to improvement in functioning over time, even if complete recovery is not achieved.

Autism Diagnosis via woaiss / Shutterstock.com

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  1. by Brian Reece

    On April 26, 2013 at 7:05 am

    This is so heartening to read. I feel that more awareness is yet needed amongst us and there is a need to be on the alert for a possible misdiagnosis. The numbers are encouraging and hope more and more kids get early intervention. Appreciate you sharing this.

  2. by Becca

    On May 1, 2013 at 1:32 am

    I don’t believe that one can “recover” from Autism. I believe a better way to put this is that it goes into sort of a remission. The behaviors are still there but its how they are managed. I have 2 sons both of whom have Autism diagnoses. My 4 yo has made AMAZING progress with the help of ABA therapy and an intensive school program. He went from losing his ability to speak to talking non stop. That being said he is learning to replace inappropriate behaviors wih more appropriate ones. He’s going to have to constantly be aware of this. When he is thrown into stressful situations, we see many behaviors that were previously replaced with appropriate behaviors will resurface. Then he has to be worked with again to remember to do the appropriate behaviors. This is going to be something he does for his whole life and some things may become routine like saying please and thank you but other things may not so he will have to work hard on those behaviors. My other son also lost his ability to speak and is having a much harder time regaining it. He’s making progress and we have high hopes for him. He still has a long road ahead though. He will have more challenges then his brother and his autism will be more noticeable then his brothers’ autism.
    So do I think my sons will ever “recover” from Autism,no but I do think they will be given the tools and skills to be able to adapt to their situations and surroundings. The autism is always going to be there the question is how noticeable will it be.
    We may see a decrease in disgnoses with the new Diagnostic manual coming out next month and perhaps more loss of disgnoses. This doesn’t necessarily indicate recovery though, I think it points more towards misdiagnosis.

  3. by Rebecca

    On May 3, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    My daughter just had her 9yrs old check up and her pediatrician told me how wonderful it is to see her almost lacking any of her previous symptoms. When she was diagnosed just before she turned 3, she wouldn’t speak or look at anyone. She wouldn’t acknowledge that there was anyone one in the room with her. She was so distant and unresponsive that the team of doctors that diagnosed her with Autism told me she would have to be institutionalized when she got older if not sooner. She was on the lowest part of the scale. I would not give up on her, and refused to believe there was nothing that would help her. I got down on my hands and knees to watch her play. I studied her every move and figured out how she learned. She has to have a visual cue and constant repetition to learn new things, so for all the parents who are tired of repeating the same thing to their kids everyday, mulitply that by 1,000! But I was determined to help her in anyway I could, so I stuck with helping her at home everyday after work and also I got her help with speech therapy through her school. She has been with the same therapist since day 1, and she is the most impressed by her improvements. IT helps when the same people are helping your children are on a schedule. She is now top of her class for science, loves reading and math and never stops talking to me! I love to hear her tell me stories of how her day was, and watch her figure out her homework with little frustration on her part! She does chores for rewards and understands how money works. She is the sweetest, most caring big sister to her baby brother and I can honestly say that I am no longer worried about her future!
    The advice I give to any parent whose child has been recently diagnosed is to NEVER give up on their child! You are the biggest influence on them, and you really can make a difference in the world- one child at a time!