University of Connecticut study: Some children with autism may be ‘cured’ with intense early therapy

19 Jan

In Autism and children of color, moi said:

The number of children with autism appears to be growing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides statistics on the number of children with autism in the section Data and Statistics:


  • It is estimated that between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240 with an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have an ASD. [Read article

  • ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, yet are on average 4 to 5 times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.  However, we need more information on some less studied populations and regions around the world. [Read article]

  • Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an approximate prevalence of 0.6% to over 1%. A recent study in South Korea reported a prevalence of 2.6%. [Data table Adobe PDF file]

  • Approximately 13% of children have a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.  [Read articleExternal Web Site Icon]

Learn more about prevalence of ASDs »

Learn more about the ADDM Project »

Learn more about the MADDSP Project »

On this Page

In order for children with autism to reach their full potential there must be early diagnosis and treatment.

Autism Speaks reports about a University of Connecticut study in the post, Study Confirms “Optimal Outcomes”:

Some children diagnosed with autism in early childhood reach “optimal outcomes” with levels of function similar to their typical peers. The findings appear today in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes,” says Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). “For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention.”

This week’s report is the first in a series of autism studies on optimal outcomes, sponsored by the NIMH. They follow up on earlier reports that a small group of children appear to “lose” their autism diagnosis over time. Some experts have questioned the accuracy of these children’s initial diagnoses. Others argued that simply being able to function in a mainstream classroom doesn’t mean that these children don’t quietly struggle with autism-related disabilities.

Here is the University of Connecticut press release:

Researchers Find Possibility of Change in Children Previously Diagnosed with Autism

January 17, 2013

UConn psychology professor Deborah Fein is the lead author of an article just published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry which indicates that some children who are accurately diagnosed with autism in early childhood may lose the symptoms as they grow older.

The article, “Optimal Outcome in Individuals with a History of Autism,” appears in the February 2013 issue of the publication. Co-authors include Professor Marianne Barton, director of clinical training and director of the Psychological Services Clinic in UConn’s Department of Psychology.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify around 1 in 88 American children as being on the autism spectrum.

Fein, UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Psychology, has been a leader in autism research since she first worked with children with the disability in the early 1970s. She says the findings in the current study are important, but like much research, raise other questions that are as yet unanswered.

We want to find out what percentage of children are capable of a favorable outcome, what type of behavioral intervention is necessary, what is it in a child’s brain that allows change to take place,” she says. “One thing we do know is that in virtually every case of a child who loses the symptoms of this disorder, the outcome is due to years of unwavering dedication and hard work by parents, teachers, and the children themselves.”

Study methodology

The study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, consisted of carefully documenting a prior diagnosis of autism in a small group of school-age children and young adults with no current symptoms of the disorder who were functioning on a par with their mainstream peers. These 34 children were considered the Optimal Outcome group. This group was then compared with two other cohorts consisting of 44 children with high-functioning autism and 34 children with typical development.

This report is the first in a series that will probe more deeply into the nature of the change in the status of the Optimal Outcome children. Having at one time been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, these young people now appear equal to typically developing peers. The study team is continuing to analyze data on changes in brain function in these children, and attempting to determine whether they have subtle residual social deficits.

Also under review is the type of interventions these children received, and to what extent that intervention is predictive of a successful transition.

Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes,” says Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “For an individual child, the outcome may be knowable only with time and after some years of intervention. Subsequent reports from this study should tell us more about the nature of autism, and the role of therapy and other factors in the long-term outcomes for these children.”

Prior studies have examined the possibility of a loss of diagnosis, but questions remained regarding the accuracy of the initial diagnosis and whether children who ultimately appeared similar to their mainstream peers initially had a relatively mild form of autism.

In Fein’s study, early diagnostic reports by clinicians with expertise in autism diagnosis were reviewed by the investigators. As a second step to ensure accuracy, a diagnostic expert without knowledge of the child’s current status reviewed reports in which the earlier diagnosis had been deleted.

The results suggested that children in the Optimal Outcome group had milder social deficits than the high functioning autism group in early childhood, but had other symptoms, related to communication and repetitive behavior, that were as severe as the latter group.

In addition, to be included in the Optimal Outcome group, children had to be in regular education classrooms with no special education services aimed at autism, and not show any signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication, and social interaction.

Ongoing research

While the current study cannot provide information on what percentage of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder might eventually lose the symptoms, investigators have collected a variety of information on the children, including structural and functional brain imaging data, psychiatric outcomes, and information on the therapies the children received.

Analysis of that data, which will be reported in subsequent papers, may shed light on questions such as whether the changes in diagnosis resulted from a normalizing of brain function, or if these children’s brains were able to compensate for autism-related difficulties.

According to Fein, “All children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are capable of making progress with intensive therapy, but with our current state of knowledge, most do not achieve the kind of optimal outcome that we are studying. Our hope is that further research will help us better understand the mechanisms of change so that each child can have the best possible life.”


Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism

  1. Deborah Fein1,6,
  2. Marianne Barton1,
  3. Inge-Marie Eigsti1,
  4. Elizabeth Kelley2,
  5. Letitia Naigles1,
  6. Robert T. Schultz3,
  7. Michael Stevens4,
  8. Molly Helt1,
  9. Alyssa Orinstein1,
  10. Michael Rosenthal5,
  11. Eva Troyb1,
  12. Katherine Tyson1

Article first published online: 16 JAN 2013

DOI: 10.1111/jcpp.12037

© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry © 2013 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Volume 54, Issue 2, pages 195–205, February 2013

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has an autism fact sheet

A diagnosis of autism can be heartbreaking for families and many cling to any shred of hope that there might be a treatment or a cure. Families have to be careful about the treatments and therapies they seek for their children.


Father’s age may be linked to Autism and Schizophrenia

Autism and children of color                                      

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine study: Kids with autism more likely to be bullied                         

Chelation treatment for autism might be harmful     

Where information leads to Hope. ©                 Dr.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

Blogs by Dr. Wilda:

COMMENTS FROM AN OLD FART©                 

Dr. Wilda Reviews ©                                       

Dr. Wilda ©                                                                             

One Response to “University of Connecticut study: Some children with autism may be ‘cured’ with intense early therapy”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: