Researchers See Recovery From Autism
Study Shows Some Children May 'Move off' the Autism Spectrum
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.
Autism Recovery: Perspective
In response to the research findings, Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for Autism Speaks and a research professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, says, "We are more hopeful than ever about the long-term outcome of children with autism. We now know that some children can actually recover from autism."
Like Fein, she cautions that the children, once recovered, are at higher risk for anxiety, attention problems, and other difficulties.
Just as Fein also suspects, Dawson says that behavioral interventions likely played a role for the optimal outcome children.
For parents whose children don't move off the spectrum, Dawson says: "It's important to remember that although all kids don't recover from autism, the majority of kids do get better when intervention is provided."
The findings about recovery, reported by many others, are credible, says another expert, Sally J. Rogers, PhD, senior scientist at the MIND Institute and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of California, Davis. She says the crucial study finding is that "optimal outcome children continue to have neurodevelopmental and behavioral difficulties. Even when classic symptoms of autism are reduced, other problems often persist."
For consumers, the message is not to categorize the disorders. "These disorders -- autism, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders" aren't entirely separate, Rogers says, but rather on a spectrum.