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Researchers See Recovery From Autism

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

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.

An estimate of a 10% recovery rate for those with autism seems plausible, says Martha Herbert, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston. In the past, estimates of recovery have ranged from 3% to 25%.  Among autism experts, she says, there is a growing consensus that recovery is possible.

"More and more people are beginning to think autism is not entirely 'hard-wired,'" Herbert tells WebMD.  Herbert was a co-author on one of Fein's previously published papers, but is not a co-author on the research presented in Chicago. She serves also as director of the treatment-guided research initiative with the Autism Society of America.

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