A new study verifies the long-controversial belief that a few children, in exceptional cases, can "recover" from autism. The study, which included investigators from the Center for Autism Research, is the first solid science to confirm that, however rarely, with the help of behavioral therapy some children can make such great improvements that they no longer qualify as having autism.
Published recently in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the study was led by the University of Connecticut's Deborah Fein, PhD. Director of the Center for Autism Research Robert Schultz, PhD, served as one of the study's co-authors.
The researchers sought to explore whether the autism-recovery phenomenon was the result of an initial misdiagnosis, or whether the children's recovery was complete. For example, the investigators asked, could the recovered children have retained significant social impairments despite losing the technical diagnosis of autism?
To test and document children who were diagnosed with autism at a young age but who no longer were qualified as such, Dr. Fein and her group compared three groups of patients. They examined a group with a history of autism and "optimal outcomes," a second group who had high-functioning autism, and a group of children who were developing typically.
The study's results "clearly demonstrate" that some children who had previously been diagnosed with autism later recovered, to the point that their communication and social skills were comparable to those of typically developing children.
The researchers caution, however, that they don't yet understand why some children recover and others don't, and have no way to predict which patients will do well.
According to Dr. Schultz, this study "provides an important scientific opportunity to study why and how these particular children did so well — what is it about their past interventions, their initial profile of strengths and weaknesses and their brain that we can learn from in order to try to generalize this result to the great majority of youth who don't achieve this optimal outcome?"
To learn more about the Center for Autism Research's extensive body of work, see the Center's website.