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Research Suggests Children Can Recover from Autism

Research Suggests Children Can Recover from Autism

Leo Lytel, second from right, 9, and his family in their home in Washington Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Leo was diagnosed with autism as a toddler and undiagnosed at 9. (Source: AP)

Associated Press/AP Online

May 13, 2009

Recovery is “not a realistic expectation for the majority of kids,” but parents should know it can happen, Fein said.

Doubters say “either they really weren’t autistic to begin with … or they’re still socially odd and obsessive, but they don’t exactly meet criteria” for autism, she said.

Fein said the children in her study “really were” autistic and now they’re “really not.”

University of Michigan autism expert Catherine Lord said she also has seen autistic patients who recover. Most had parents who spent long hours working with them on behavior improvement.

But, Lord added, “I don’t think we can predict who this will happen for.” And she does not think it’s possible to make it happen.

The children in Fein’s study, which is still ongoing, were diagnosed by an autism specialist before age 5 but no longer meet diagnostic criteria for autism. The initial diagnoses were verified through early medical records.

Because the phenomenon is so rare, Fein is still seeking children to help bolster evidence on what traits formerly autistic kids may have in common. Her team is also comparing these children with autistic and non-autistic kids.

So far, the “recovered” kids “are turning out very normal” on neuropsychological exams and verbal and nonverbal tests, she said.

The researchers are also doing imaging tests to see if the recovered kids’ brains look more like those of autistic or nonautistic children. Autistic children’s brains tend to be slightly larger than normal.

Imaging scans also are being done to examine brain function in formerly autistic kids. Researchers want to know if their “normal” behavior is a result of “normal” brain activity, or if their brains process information in a non-typical way to compensate for any deficits.

Results from those tests are still being analyzed.


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