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Recovering From Autism Possible, Study Suggests

‘Like He Was on a Dimmer Switch’ continued...

She says Jake had hit all of his developmental milestones before the age of 17 months, but after that it was like he was on a dimmer switch.

“His behaviors just started fading away,” she says. “He stopped playing, and he no longer had any social interaction, and he no longer liked hugs. By his second birthday he had stopped speaking.”

She and her husband hired a team of therapists to help Jake relearn basic skills like making eye contact and sitting in a chair using the positive reinforcement, repetitive behavioral therapy.

“My husband and I learned it and so did the babysitter,” she says. "We pretty much lived this program with Jake 24/7.”

By the time Jake was 4, he showed no signs of autism. Now 16, she says he is a typical teenager with no autistic behaviors.

Earlier Detection, More Optimal Outcomes

Fein makes it clear that even with the best treatments, most children with autism will not move off the spectrum.

“Parents should not feel that they have done something wrong if their child does not have an optimal outcome,” she says. “Most kids will not move off the spectrum, even if they have the best treatments we know how to give. But they will progress.”

Exkorn says many kids who do recover and move off the autism spectrum still have other developmental problems, including ADHD.

Developmental pediatrician Andrew Adesman, MD, who has been practicing for 26 years, says he has seen many cases where children with an early autism diagnosis ended up developing normally.

Adesman is chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park.

“This concept of optimal outcome, where children lose the clinical features of autism, is very real to me,” he says.

He believes children who start out with higher IQs and less severe autism spectrum symptoms are those with the greatest chance of moving off the spectrum.

“I suspect that with the greater emphasis on early identification and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder, the percentage of children with optimal outcomes will increase,” he says.

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