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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Researchers See Recovery From Autism

Study Shows Some Children May 'Move off' the Autism Spectrum

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Most of the children who recovered received early applied behavioral analysis treatment, an intensive program that aims to improve problem behaviors, Fein found. They got it at a young age, she says, typically before age 4 or 5.

But she adds this caveat: "What I really want to get across to parents here is, if a child does not have this recovery, it doesn't mean the child didn't get good care. There are clearly a minority of kids with autism who have the potential to reach this outcome."

It's long been known that children with autism tend to also have coexisting conditions such as attention problems and anxiety, and Fein also found that even in the "recovered" children, the other conditions persist.

Nearly three-quarters of the optimal outcome children still had problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, or phobias. Currently, eight of the children still suffer from the problems, she reports.

Two Families' Stories

Leo Lytel was diagnosed with classic autism at age 2, recalls his mother, Jayne, who enrolled her son in Fein's study.

By the next year, the diagnosis was moved from a diagnosis of autism to PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder -- not otherwise specified). "He was still on the spectrum," she tells WebMD. Leo got intensive early intervention, including behavior modification, language treatments, and speech and occupational therapy, Lytel says.

"He made remarkable progress from the very beginning," says Lytel. Leo, now 9, is one of the "optimal outcome" children in Fein's study. "He no longer meets the diagnosis for a child on the autism spectrum," his mother says. She credits the early intervention.

Karen Siff Exkorn's son Jake was also diagnosed with autism at age 2, she says. "We hired a team of therapists who literally came to our house every two hours," she tells WebMD. "My husband and I did it over the weekend. We did that for two full years,'' she says.

At age 4, Exkorn took Jake back to the developmental pediatrician. "She ran him through a battery of tests and gave me the pronouncement: 'Your son is recovered.'"

That was eight years ago. Jake, too, was one of the optimal outcome subjects in Fein's study. Today, Jake is 12, goes to sleep-away sports camp and is considered a leader by his teachers, Exkorn says.

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