10% of autistic children may 'recover'

Data presented at the International Society for Autism Research meeting in May in Chicago suggests that one in 10 children diagnosed with autism or autism spectrum disorders may ‘recover’. Deborah Fein, the study's lead author and professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, said that ‘recovery’ is more likely in children who received a treatment known as ‘applied behavioural analysis’ and got it early.

The researchers looked at the results of three groups aged nine to 18:
• 20 ‘optimal outcome’ children (a phrase Fein prefers to ‘recovered’)
• 15 children with ‘high functioning’ autism
• 23 comparison children developing typically

In the research, Fein and her colleagues looked at such measures as head circumference growth patterns, which have previously been suggested to play a role in the development of autism. They found that the rate of head growth followed by deceleration was greater in the optimal outcome and high-functioning autism groups than in the comparison group. But the head-growth patterns were no different in the optimal outcome and high-functioning groups.

They found that above average IQ may help the ‘recovered’ group normalise and speculated that the above average IQ may help the recovered children to compensate.

Most of the children who recovered received early (before they were five) applied behavioural analysis treatment, an intensive programme that aims to improve problem behaviours although the researchers emphasise that the fact that a child does not ‘recover’ does not mean that they did not have good care.
Children with autism tend to also have coexisting conditions such as attention problems and anxiety and these conditions persisted even in the ‘recovered’ children.

Martha Herbert, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston and a director of the treatment-guided research initiative with the Autism Society of America, says that a 10% recovery rate for those with autism seems plausible; in the past, estimates of ‘recovery’ have ranged from 3% to 25%. Among autism experts, she says, there is a growing consensus that autism is not entirely 'hard-wired’ and that recovery is possible.

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First Publishd in 2009

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