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Some Children 'May Outgrow Autism', Study Finds

Update Date: Jan 17, 2013 03:18 PM EST

Some young children accurately diagnosed as autistic lose their symptoms and their diagnosis as they get older, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes," said Dr. Thomas R. Insel, NIMH director, said in a press release. "For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention."

The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, was led on 34 children who had received a diagnosis of autism in early life and had known a typically developing thereafter. To be compared, the children were matched by age, sex, and nonverbal IQ with 44 others children with high-functioning autism.

The results suggested that children in the first group had more weak social deficits than the high functioning autism group in early childhood. However, they had other symptoms, related to communication and repetitive behavior, as severe as the others.

Fein, UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology, has been a leader in autism research since she first worked with children with the disability in the early 1970s. She says the findings in the current study are important, but like much research, raise other questions that are as yet unanswered.

"We want to find out what percentage of children are capable of a favorable outcome, what type of behavioral intervention is necessary, what is it in a child's brain that allows change to take place," she says. "One thing we do know is that in virtually every case of a child who loses the symptoms of this disorder, the outcome is due to years of unwavering dedication and hard work by parents, teachers, and the children themselves."

It became clear that the children in the optimal outcome group - the ones who no longer had recognizable signs of autism - had had milder social deficits than the high-functioning autism group in early childhood, although they did have other autism symptoms, like repetitive behaviors and communication problems, that were as severe.

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