The Grapevine

7% Of Autistic Kids 'Outgrow' Diagnosis By Elementary School, But Learning Difficulties Remain

autism
One in every 14 autistic toddlers will "outgrow" the diagnosis by elementary school, though most of these children will continue to display some emotional or behavioral symptoms. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

For some parents, the miracle does occur. Their child, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a toddler, will test as normal (socially and cognitively) once in elementary school. A new study finds that one in every 14 autistic toddlers will no longer meet the diagnostic criteria once they reach elementary school. However, the majority of these exceptional children will continue to display some emotional or behavioral symptoms at that stage and so require some form of special education, note the researchers who spoke at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies.

“Understanding the full range of possible outcomes is important for parents, clinicians, and the educational system,” wrote the authors in their presentation abstract.

Surprised by what they had seen in practice, an early intervention program team of doctors and researchers examined the medical records of 38 remarkable children. Part of a group of 569 children total, all had been diagnosed with autism by the team. The total children, who lived in the Bronx, represented a range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds: just under half were on Medicaid (46 percent), while 44 percent were Hispanic, 36 percent Caucasian, and 10 percent African-American.

Between the years of 2003 and 2013, all these hundreds of children met the diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder, yet, when re-evaluated four years later, 38 (or seven percent) no longer displayed symptoms of the disorder. Importantly, the same intervention team diagnosing the children had provided therapy and treatment and also monitored the children's progress over time.

During the follow-up examination, three of the 38 exceptional children displayed no disabilities of any kind. They had outgrown all of their social, psychological, and cognitive difficulties.

Still, the overwhelming majority (92 percent) of the 38 had residual learning and/or emotional/behavioral problems. Two-thirds displayed a language/learning disability, while nearly half were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or disruptive behavior disorder. About a quarter showed signs of a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or selective mutism.

Despite remaining challenges, it is still both astounding and inspiring that some of the children had overcome a primary hurdle of autism.

“Autism generally has been considered a lifelong condition, but seven percent of children in this study who received an early diagnosis experienced a resolution of autistic symptoms over time,” Dr. Lisa Shulman of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Children’s Hospital at Montefiore stated in a press release. Certainly, the hope is these remarkable children may someday surmount their residual challenges as well.

Source: Shulman LH, D'Agostino E, Valicenti-McDermott MD, et al. When an Early Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Resolves, What Remains? American Academy of Pediatrics. 2015.

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