1 in 5 children overcome autism by age 9 with intensive behavioral therapy
Some of the children in the study, which is still ongoing, were diagnosed by an autism specialist before the age of five but no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for autism.
The findings, presented by University of Connecticut psychology professor Deborah Fein, suggest the children recovered after undergoing years of intensive behavioural therapy.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and presented at an autism conference in Chicago, involved children aged nine to 18.
Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, called the research a breakthrough. “Even though a number of us out in the clinical field have seen kids who appear to recover, it has never been documented as thoroughly as Fein’s work,” Miss Dawson said.
She added however that they were still at a “very early stage”.
Prof Fein says her studies have shown the range for children recovering from autism is 10 percent to 20 percent.
Prof Fein warned however that even after lots of therapy, most autistic children remain autistic, adding that recovery was “not a realistic expectation for the majority of kids.”
She dismissed critics who argue that the children were not really autistic to begin with, and added that the “recovered” children “are turning out very normal” on neuropsychological exams and verbal and nonverbal tests.
A spokeswoman for the National Autistic Society said: “Autism is a serious lifelong condition which can have a profound impact on people’s lives. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people in the UK, that equates to over half a million. At present, there is no known cure although the right support at the right time can make an enormous difference and help people to progress and fulfil their potential. It is crucial that that support is in place.
“It is important to understand that autism is a spectrum condition which affects people in very different ways. Some people on the so called ‘higher functioning’ end of the spectrum, for example those with Asperger syndrome, may have their condition diagnosed later than the age described below and indeed we know of many people who were not diagnosed until their teens or adulthood. They also need understanding and support.”