Medical Research

published : 2023-10-12

Some Kids With Autism Outgrow the Disorder by Age 6, Study Finds

Intervention therapies show promising results in helping children no longer meet the criteria for autism

A photo of a child playing and engaging with others, showcasing their adaptive skills (taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV)

A new study conducted by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital has found that a significant number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as toddlers tend to 'outgrow' the disorder within a few years of diagnosis. The study followed 213 children between the ages of 12 and 36 months who were diagnosed with ASD, and by the time they reached 5 to 7 years old, nearly 37% no longer met the criteria for an autism diagnosis.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, discovered that female children and those with higher baseline adaptive skills were more likely to no longer meet the criteria for autism. Notably, all the children in the study who outgrew the diagnosis had an IQ of at least 70. The findings highlight the importance of ongoing evaluations for children with autism. Dr. Elizabeth Harstad, the leader of the study, emphasized the significance of monitoring a child’s development over time.

An image of a diverse group of children receiving intervention therapies, emphasizing the importance of early identification and treatment (taken with Nikon D850)

The research also revealed that each child in the study received interventions, primarily behavioral analysis, after the initial autism diagnosis. This suggests that early identification and treatment may contribute to improved outcomes. Dr. Oana de Vinck-Baroody, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, expressed optimism about the study results and emphasized the need for comprehensive care for children with autism, considering their other developmental, behavioral, and medical needs.

While the study offers encouraging insights, it also poses questions about current treatment approaches and the impact of lifestyle and environmental factors on autism diagnoses. Dr. Jennifer Accardo, a developmental pediatrician, wondered if the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased social isolation and screen usage, played a role in making some young children appear on the autism spectrum. Accardo also highlighted the need for further research to understand the levels of severity of autism and the influence of socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds.

A close-up photo of a child's hand holding a puzzle piece, symbolizing the complexities of autism and the need for ongoing monitoring and support (taken with Sony Alpha a7 III)

The findings of this study challenge previous assumptions about autism and highlight the complexities of the disorder. Although some children may outgrow the diagnosis, it is essential to continue monitoring their development and provide support in other areas of functioning. The journey to better understand and treat autism continues, with the hope of improving outcomes and supporting children on the autism spectrum.