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Can Some Kids Outgrow Autism? Maybe.

It seems like a headline out of an autism parent’s wildest dreams: “Can Some Children ‘Lose’ Autism Diagnosis? New Evidence Says Yes.”

Can that be true? Can children outgrow autism? Is there a cure? What does this mean for the future of autism? What breakthrough are we talking about?

Unfortunately, reading further into the Huffington Post article with that breathtaking headline proved that there is no easy answer forthcoming. Rather, it talks about the results of a study that shows, somewhat bafflingly, that some autistic kids can actually develp into non-autistic adults. But researchers don’t know why.

In the new study, published online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry Wednesday and supported by the National Institutes of Health, Fein and her colleagues looked at 34 “optimal outcome” individuals between 8 and 21 who were previously diagnosed with an autism disorder, but are now indistinguishable from their non-autistic peers. They showed no problems with language, communication, social interaction and “facial recognition,” which can be difficult for individuals with autism.

According to Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, the subjects of the study definitely did meet the criteria for autism in childhood but did not fall onto the spectrum as adults. The researchers are continuing to study the phenomenon using parents reports about about treatment the children received as well as studying brain imaging to try and find clues there about what causes some people to get beyond autism as they grow up.

The only thing the researchers can say for certain is that the subjects who fell off the spectrum had behavioral interventions as children. Also? They are a distinct minority of autistic kids, probably number below 25% of the autistic population.

As the parent of neurotypical kids, I felt the air go out of me when the article failed to suggest a reason for some people growing beyond autism. I was hoping this would be the beginning of answers that would aid some of my close friends in their quest to bring their autistic children along a path toward what the researchers call “optimal outcomes.” Instead it’s just another question mark about a syndrome that’s already riddled with unanswered questions.

I’m heartened to see this research is on-going. I think this is an important field of study and will eventually lead to understanding many of the secrets of the human brain — typical and atypical alike. And I hope that there will be answers for the families of autistic children.

For one mom’s personal take on these findings, check out a post from Joslyn Gray in Stroller Derby!

 

Read more from Rebekah at Mom-in-a-Million The Broad Side. Follow Rebekah on Facebook and Twitter too!

Photo credit: photo stock

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