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Why Some Children May 'Grow Out' of Autism

But Kids With Several Physical, Psychological Problems May Be Less Likely to Improve Over Time, Study Shows

Conditions That Complicate Autism

Among preschoolers, kids who were diagnosed with a current diagnosis of autism were almost five times more likely to have two or more other conditions than those kids who had a previous diagnosis of autism. Learning disabilities and developmental delays were the most significant predictors of having a current autism diagnosis in 3- to 5-year-olds.

Among 6- to 11-year-olds, kids with a current autism diagnosis were significantly more likely than kids with a past diagnosis to have once had a speech problem or to be currently experiencing moderate to severe anxiety.

Among teens, kids with a current autism diagnosis were significantly more likely to also have a speech problem or mild epilepsy than kids with a past autism diagnosis.

Having a past hearing problem, on the other hand, made it significantly more likely that a child or teen would no longer be diagnosed with autism.

The symptoms of hearing impairment in young children can mimic symptoms of autism. In some cases, when the hearing problems are addressed, the behavioral and developmental problems also resolve.

Experts who were not involved in the research say it’s important for a couple of reasons.

Treatment May Help Kids With Co-Occurring Conditions

“It illustrates, again, the fact that there are some common co-occurring disorders that do occur in young individuals with autism and they’re relatively frequent. And this is another way of getting some insight into how frequent they are,” says Joseph Horrigan, MD, head of medical research for the New York City-based nonprofit Autism Speaks.

He says many of the co-occurring conditions, like ADHD, can be effectively treated with medications or cognitive behavioral therapy. And treatment may relieve some of the distress and dysfunction that many people with autism and their families face.

The second reason the study is noteworthy, Horrigan says, is that it sheds some light on the differences between those kids diagnosed with autism who will see their symptoms improve and those who don’t.

He cautions, however, that because the research is just a snapshot in time, it can’t say very much about why some people’s symptoms become milder over time while others continue to qualify for an autism diagnosis.

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