Jan 18 2013

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Study Finds Some Children Can “Recover” from Autism

autismA new study verifies the long-controversial belief that a few children, in exceptional cases, can “recover” from autism. The study, which included CHOP’s Center for Autism Research, is the first solid science to confirm that, however rarely, with the help of behavioral therapy some children can make such great improvements that they no longer qualify as having autism.

Published online Wednesday in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the study was led by the University of Connecticut’s Deborah Fein, PhD. Investigators from Queens University in Ontario, Canada, the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., and New York, N.Y.’s Child Mind Institute also contributed to the study. Director of the Center for Autism Research Robert Schultz, PhD, served as one of the study’s co-authors.

The researchers sought to explore whether the autism-recovery phenomenon was the result of an initial misdiagnosis, or whether the children’s recovery was complete. For example, the investigators asked, could the recovered children have retained significant social impairments despite losing the technical diagnosis of autism?

To test and document children who were diagnosed with autism at a young age but who no longer were qualified as such, Dr. Fein and her group compared three groups of patients. They examined a group with a history of autism and “optimal outcomes,” a second group who had high-functioning autism, and a group of children who were developing typically.

The study’s results “clearly demonstrate” that some children who had previously been diagnosed with autism later recovered, to the point that their communication and social skills were comparable to those of typically developing children.

“This study is the first to establish with firm evidence that a small percentage children with an autism spectrum disorder in early childhood can be essentially symptom free by adolescence,” said the Center for Autism Research’s Dr. Schultz. “Although there has been ample anecdotal evidence to this effect for many years, it was never clear that those cases were accurately diagnosed in the first place. This study puts that concern to rest and raises hope for families that some children do show dramatic recovery and what we are calling an “optimal outcome”.

As might expected, Dr. Feinstein’s study has already garnered a fair amount of media attention, from both the New York Times and the autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks, among others.

The researchers caution, however, that they don’t yet understand why some children recover and others don’t, and have no way to predict which patients will do well. Further studies are planned to better understand the well-being and social and communication skills of those children who do “recover.”

According to Dr. Schultz, this study “provides an important scientific opportunity to study why and how these particular children did so well — what is it about their past interventions, their initial profile of strengths and weaknesses and their brain that we can learn from in order to try to generalize this result to the great majority of youth who don’t achieve this optimal outcome?”

To learn more about the Center for Autism Research’s extensive body of work, see the Center’s website.

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.research.chop.edu/study-finds-some-children-can-recover-from-autism/


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  1. Mark

    Recovering from autism is the goal of every parent of a child with autism. Recovery, if possible, takes years and tremendous financial means. Another strategy for our country is to prevent autism from occurring in the first place. Thanks to medical researchers we now know dozens of risk factors for autism. Fortunately, most risk factors are modifiable and so prevention of autism is possible starting before pregnancy. The CDC needs to start prevention programs for autism – just like they already do for heart disease.
    publisher of the new book Preventing Autism & ADHD by Dr. Debby Hamilton, MD, MSPH

  2. David Moss

    more interesting information is at


  3. Susi

    I have friend with autism child. It is make me find out more about autism. Have autism child does not mean that child can not grow with their maximum potential. In fact, some autism children can growth to be a great person. Even it is taking time but remember that autism children can achieve a good life. http://autismcauses1.com

  4. Autism Ireland

    Although autism is a serious disease but it is not true that it can not be cured. Recent survey has proved it as falsify. To day most of the organizations are working for autism children and I have also seen so many cases in which the children once had autism are now perfectly OK.

    It totally depends upon parents that how they deal with this situation. A huge support and care is necessary to recover from autism.

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