For some children, autism symptoms may fade with age - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

For some children, autism symptoms may fade with age

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TUESDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Some children who are diagnosed with autism at an early age will ultimately shed all signs and symptoms of the disorder as they enter adolescence or young adulthood, a new analysis contends.

Whether that happens because of aggressive interventions or whether it boils down to biology and genetics is still unclear, the researchers noted, although experts suspect it is most likely a combination of the two.

The finding stems from a methodical analysis of 34 children who were deemed "normal" at the study's start, despite having been diagnosed with autism before the age of 5.

"Generally, autism is looked at as a lifelong disorder," said study author Deborah Fein, a professor in the departments of psychology and pediatrics at the University of Connecticut. "The point of this work was really to demonstrate and document this phenomenon, in which some children can move off the autism spectrum and really go on to function like normal adolescents in all areas, and end up mainstreamed in regular classrooms with no one-on-one support.

"Although we don't know exactly what percent of these kids are capable of this kind of amazing outcome, we do know it's a minority," she added. "We're certainly talking about less than 25 percent of those diagnosed with autism at an early age.

"Certainly all autistic children can get better and grow with good therapy," Fein said. "But this is not just about good therapy. I've seen thousands of kids who have great therapy but don't reach this result. It's very, very important that parents who don't see this outcome not feel as if they did something wrong."

Fein and her colleagues reported the findings of their study, which was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in the Jan. 15 issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The 34 individuals previously diagnosed with autism (most between the ages of 2 and 4) were roughly between the ages of 8 and 21 during the study. They were compared to a group of 44 individuals with high-functioning autism and a control group of 34 non-autistic peers.

In-depth blind analysis of each child's original diagnostic report revealed that the now-"optimal outcome" group had, as young children, shown signs of social impairment that was milder than the 44 children who had "high-functioning" autism. As young children, the now-optimal group had suffered from equally severe communication impairment and repetitive behaviors as those in the high-functioning group.

That said, the optimal group retained none of the telltale signs of autism with respect to impaired social skills, communication behaviors or the ability to recognize faces. What's more, all were enrolled in school settings that did not cater in any special way to the needs of children with autism.

Fein stressed that her group's work is ongoing, and the team will analyze brain imaging information that might reveal some of the structural shifts under way among the formerly autistic group. The researchers also will look at various types of therapies the children had received following their initial diagnosis, to determine what kind of intervention seemed to have the greatest positive impact.