For some children who receive an early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism-related symptoms eventually disappear. Approximately 1 in 14 toddlers diagnosed with ASD do not meet the criteria for ASD by the time they finish elementary school. Previous research has shown that, for this subset of children, ASD symptoms resolve over time. However, researchers did not know whether these children had other cognitive or behavioral deficits later on. A new study finds that children whose ASD resolves itself still have emotional and behavioral symptoms that require special support in school.
The researchers collected data on 38 children between the years 2003 and 2013. The children were part of a larger, university-affiliated early intervention program. All had been diagnosed with ASD as toddlers, but lost their diagnosis as they aged. The children formed a diverse group: 44 percent were Hispanic, 36 percent were Caucasian, and 10 percent were black. Forty-six percent of the children were on Medicaid.
The clinicians who initially diagnosed the children provided interventions and monitored the children’s response to treatments.
The children’s social and cognitive functions improved—indicating that they no longer had ASD—but most of them continued to have other emotional or behavioral symptoms that required intervention.
- 92 percent of the children had residual learning and/or emotional/behavioral impairments.
- 68 percent had a language/learning disability.
- Nearly 50 percent had externalizing problems like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
- 24 percent had internalizing problems like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- 75 percent continued to need academic support.
Only 3 of the 38 children had no diagnosis after their ASD symptoms resolved. The results indicate that children whose ASD symptoms improve still require interventions at school.
“When an early ASD diagnosis resolves, there are often other learning and emotional/behavioral diagnoses that remain. Understanding the full range of possible positive outcomes in this scenario is important for parents, clinicians and the educational system,” stated Dr. Shulman, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
This research was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in San Diego.
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