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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Recovering From Autism Possible, Study Suggests

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Behavioral Therapy May Make the Difference

Lisa Gilotty, PhD, of the National Institute of Mental Health, says it is increasingly clear that some autistic children do eventually move off the autism spectrum.

“We don’t yet know what percentage of children are capable of doing this, what interventions play a role, or if there is a biological reason for this,” she says.

Fein is a big proponent of very early intensive behavioral therapy, and she says kids who recover are more likely than those who don’t to have had a behavioral therapy known as applied behavioral analysis.

‘Like He Was on a Dimmer Switch’

Karen Siff Exkorn began the therapy with her son Jake immediately after he was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.

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.

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