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Study shows some autism symptoms may lessen with age

Campus Correspondent

Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

New results have been discovered for optimal outcomes in individuals with a history of autism, according to a study pioneered by UConn psychology professor Deborah Fine and published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The study, “Optimal Outcome in Individuals with a History of Autism,” was published in the February edition and suggests that some children diagnosed with autism in early childhood have lost all of the symptoms as they have gotten older.

Co-author and Professor Marianne Barton, director of clinical training and director of the Psychological Services Clinic in UConn’s Department of Psychology said, “One of the biggest issues in early childhood is autism…we were seeing kids in our clinical practices at the age of 4 who looked terrific…so we were curious about those kids.”

The study consists of individuals with a history of ASD and optimal outcomes, high functioning individuals with a current ASD diagnosis, and typically developing peers. According to the study, when referring to optimal outcome, the child has lost all symptoms of ASD in addition to the diagnosis and is functioning with the non-autistic range of social interaction and communication.

“We studied kids who were equally impaired in terms of language, equally impaired in terms of repetitive behaviors and maybe slightly impaired in terms of the social functioning,” said Barton.

Results of the study suggest that kids who had autism early on and who had slightly less social impairments lost all of their symptoms.

“The most important finding is that it is possible for a subset of kids with autism, which we have always considered to be a lifelong disability, but with aggressive early structured intervention it is possible for a small proportion of them to lose their diagnosis and to function within the normal range,” said Barton.

Although possible deficits in more subtle aspects of social interaction or cognition are not ruled out, the study’s results show the possibility of optimal outcome and demonstrate an overall level of functioning within normal limits.

“This reinforces the idea that we need to get kids detected early and into treatment because it really makes a difference,” said Fine. “There is this outcome of a possibility, it is still a minority and not every kid who has intervention will loose all of their symptoms, but it is a possibility.”

According to Fine and Barton, the study has not concluded. There is other data on the subjects that still needs to be analyzed. And the analysis of the data may answer questions about brain function in the children.

“Our thought is that these findings are an argument for identifying kids early, for knowing the younger we identify kids the better their response to the intervention. These findings are an argument for making sure they get adequate intensive treatment, for encouraging families to be involved in that treatment, and for recognizing this is a heterogeneous disorder. There’s so much variability in the kinds of kids that get ASD diagnosis and we have to appreciate that they all deserve to have intensive early treatment. I think there is hope,” Barton said.


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