Research suggests children can recover from autism

May 08, 2009 By LINDSEY TANNER , AP Medical Writer
Leo Lytel, second from right, 9, and his family David Lytel, left, Lucas Lytel, 11, and Jayne Lytel pose for a photograph with one of the family cats in their home in Washington Wednesday, May 6, 2009. Leo was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. He was undiagnosed at age 9. Provocative new research suggests that 10 percent of autistic children actually "recover" from the troubling developmental disorder and lose the diagnosis later on in childhood. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(AP) -- Leo Lytel was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. But by age 9 he had overcome the disorder. His progress is part of a growing body of research that suggests at least 10 percent of children with autism can "recover" from it - most of them after undergoing years of intensive behavioral therapy.

Skeptics question the phenomenon, but University of Connecticut psychology professor Deborah Fein is among those convinced it's real.

She presented research this week at an conference in Chicago that included 20 children who, according to rigorous analysis, got a correct diagnosis but years later were no longer considered autistic.

Among them was Leo, a boy in Washington, D.C., who once made no eye contact, who echoed words said to him and often spun around in circles - all classic autism symptoms. Now he is an articulate, social third-grader. His mother, Jayne Lytel, says his teachers call Leo a leader.

The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, involves children ages 9 to 18.

Autism researcher Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, called Fein's research a breakthrough.

"Even though a number of us out in the clinical field have seen kids who appear to recover," it has never been documented as thoroughly as Fein's work, Dawson said.

"We're at a very early stage in terms of understanding" the phenomenon, Dawson said.

Previous studies have suggested between 3 percent and 25 percent of autistic kids recover. Fein says her studies have shown the range is 10 percent to 20 percent.

But even after lots of therapy - often carefully designed educational and social activities with rewards - most autistic children remain autistic.

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.

Most of the formerly autistic kids got long-term behavior treatment soon after diagnosis, in some cases for 30 or 40 hours weekly.

Many also have above-average IQs and had been diagnosed with relatively mild cases of autism. At age 2, many were within the normal range for motor development, able to walk, climb and hold a pencil.

Significant improvement suggesting recovery was evident by around age 7 in most cases, Fein said.

None of the has shown any sign of relapse. But nearly three-fourths of the formerly autistic kids have had other disorders, including attention-deficit problems, tics and phobias; eight still are affected.

Jayne Lytel says Leo sometimes still gets upset easily but is much more flexible than before.

---

On the Net

National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov

Autism Speaks: http://www.autismspeaks.org

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Health officials warn of Sea-Tac measles exposure

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Fever may ease autism for a while

Dec 24, 2007

Anecdotes about fevers triggering "normal" behavior in autistic children now have a scientific study to back them, researchers in Baltimore report.

No link found between autism and celiac disease

May 01, 2007

Contrary to previous studies, autistic children are no more likely than other children to have celiac disease, according to new research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting ...

Older men risk siring autistic kids

Sep 05, 2006

A joint U.S.-British study says men aged 40 and older are far more likely to father autistic children than those younger than 30.

Mental disorders in parents linked to autism in children

May 05, 2008

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records ...

Recommended for you

Sierra Leone: WHO too slow to help doc with Ebola

3 hours ago

Sierra Leone accused the World Health Organization on Monday of being "sluggish" in facilitating an evacuation of a doctor who died from Ebola before she could be sent out of the country for medical care.

Dutch doctors feared to have Ebola leave hospital

3 hours ago

Two Dutch doctors flown home from west Africa after fears they might have been contaminated with the killer Ebola virus have left hospital "in good health," their employer, the Lion Heart Medical Centre, said Monday.

Strategic self-sabotage? MRSA inhibits its own growth

9 hours ago

Scientists at the University of Western Ontario have uncovered a bacterial mystery. Against all logic, the most predominant strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in North American produces an enzyme ...

US works to step up Ebola aid, but is it enough?

11 hours ago

The American strategy on Ebola is two-pronged: Step up desperately needed aid to West Africa and, in an unusual step, train U.S. doctors and nurses for volunteer duty in the outbreak zone. At home, the goal ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

KBK
1 / 5 (2) May 09, 2009
If one gets the shit our of their diets and the corporations with their vaccines and metabolic poisons out of their lives..... well your children too -can recover from autism!
Nik_2213
not rated yet May 10, 2009
I am so happy that this child was among the ~10% who find a 'second wind' and become 'late developer / high achiever'.

Um, IIRC, the UK's recent experience with the MMR scare reducing vaccination uptake showed no reduction in autism cases.

It did show a lot of kiddies get very, very sick without those vaccinations. And, without their rubella vaccination, a swathe of adolescent girls may yet be blighted with sterility or birth defects...
---

Um, KBK, without vaccines, how do you protect yourself from measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, annual flu', smallpox, diptheria, tetanus, several hepatitis, tuberculosis etc etc ??

For most of those dire ailments, the answer is 'herd immunity': You gotta hope enough sheeple take the contrary view to you. Your best game-plan is not to convince them to abstain...

For the rest of those diseases, well, good luck-- You'll need it. Then, next time you or your dependent is in ER with a really, really dirty wound and an anti-tet injection is offered, think quickly...