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Can children grow out of a diagnosis of ASD?

A recent study has looked at children who appear to have grown out of their diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. If these children have experienced real change, then this challenges the general assumption that ASDs are lifelong disabilities. The study set out to find if these children had been misdiagnosed initially or if they still exhibited subtle signs of autism. To conduct the study the researchers recruited three sets of school-age children and young adults: 34 with a prior diagnosis of ASD, but who now had no symptoms of the disorder (optimal outcome); 44 matched individuals with high-functioning autism; and 34 typically developing peers. The optimal outcome and typically developing groups did not differ significantly on mean test scores of communication, social interaction, face recognition, and most language subscales. This indicates that the children who had grown out of their diagnosis were now indistinguishable, with these tests, from their developmentally typical peers. However, when reviewing the children's initial diagnoses the researchers found that there was little early difference between those children now in the optimal outcome group and those now with high functioning autism. This suggests that the original ASD diagnoses were correct of those who now had an optimal outcome and that these changes are real. The researchers noted that although individuals in the optimal outcome and high functioning autistic groups showed equally severe difficulties initially with communication and repetitive behaviors, the optimal outcome group initially had milder symptoms of social dysfunction. Individuals in the optimal outcome group also had mean IQs in the high average range, bringing the possibility that their above average cognition may have helped them to compensate for social difficulties. The researchers acknowledged several limitations to the study, including that there may still be residual traces of ASD amongst the optimal outcome group that their research tools failed to detect. However, the study supports the observation that some children correctly receiving an initial diagnosis of ASD may eventually develop into individuals who are indistinguishable from those who have followed a more typical developmental path. Further work is needed to identify those factors that may help to predict or facilitate an optimal outcome, including effective treatment options. 'Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism.' Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 54:2 (2013), pp 195–205 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpp.12037/pdf
Comments
hakea commented on 26-Jul-2014 03:26 PM
Hi Geoff

I have worked with children at the severe end of the spectrum. What I observed as the children grew into their late teens and early twenties was that they became more aware of themselves. As children they appear confused about the world and their reactions to it, but as they got older they did what I called "growing into themselves". They had a greater awareness, became more flexible about some of their obsessions, were more open to change. These adjustments were greater when experienced in a trusting relationship with their carers (professional or kinship).

I can imagine that children on the lower end of the spectrum could develop to a point where their autism is indistinguishable.

Kind Regards

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Welcome to ourNews, where we keep up-to-date with research and other news related to infant mental health. These articles can be of interest to both parents and professionals.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

ourAdvice, our other blog, has brief posts with advice for parents.

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