NEW YORK (Dispatches) -- Research in the past several years has shown that children can outgrow a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), once considered a lifelong condition. In a new study, researchers have found that the vast majority of such children still have difficulties that require therapeutic and educational support.
In the study, lead author Lisa Shulman, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Einstein and her colleagues reviewed clinical records of 569 patients who were diagnosed with ASD between 2003 and 2013 at CERC, a university-affiliated early intervention program in the Bronx for children with developmental disabilities. Their mean age was 2½ years at initial diagnosis and 6½ years at follow up. The vast majority had received early intervention services, a mix of speech and occupational therapies, special instruction, and applied behavioral analysis (the main evidence-based treatment for ASD).
At follow-up, 38 children (seven percent of the original 569 patients) no longer met the diagnostic criteria for ASD. Of these 38 children, 68 percent were diagnosed with language or learning disabilities; 49 percent with externalizing behavior problems (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or disruptive behavior disorder); 24 percent with internalizing behavior problems (mood disorder, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or selective mutism); and 5 percent with a significant mental health diagnosis (psychotic disorder not otherwise specified).
Only three (8 percent) of the 38 children recovered from ASD and had no other problems. Follow-up cognitive testing (available in 33 of the 38 participants) showed that none of the children was intellectually disabled.