A new study from the University of Connecticut suggests it’s actually possible for some children, accurately diagnosed with autism during early childhood, to lose their diagnosis as they get older.
So is it true? Can a child ‘outgrow’ autism?
I think the answer is ‘yes,’ and I say this out of personal experience, having cared for my son for the last 15 years. As many of you may know, my son was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) at the age of 2, and ever since then, my entire life has been focused on his growth and development. My wife and I have been very hands-on parents, and we have been very fortunate in being able to provide Ryan with early intervention treatment, which continues to this day.
However, I do see sides of his personality that have emerged, which are distinct and different from some of those autistic behaviors he had in the past. And these positive changes were not completely due to the early intervention – but rather through his socialization with the family and friends at school.
One of the advantages that Ryan has had is that he has an older brother and a younger sister, both of whom are well aware of his limitations. But as children themselves, they never allowed Ryan to be different. I believe that positive peer pressure made Ryan realize he had to grow up and learn on his own.
So when I look at this new study, I tend to believe that for many kids on the spectrum, ‘growing out’ of autism is achievable. However, another point the research makes – which I tend to agree with – is perhaps some of these kids who are classified as autistic are actually misclassified.
If you label a child as autistic, the decision should be made after very careful examination by multiple medical professionals, along with a thorough physical history to rule out many other factors, such as autoimmune diseases, fragile X or neurological problems.
I still believe that many children in the U.S. are not provided with the proper venue to get a correct diagnosis. And unfortunately, once these children are diagnosed, early intervention becomes a bureaucratic nightmare for their parents. So while this research may reveal new insight into how autism progresses throughout the course of a child’s life, it may also show it is time to re-examine how we label autism in this country.
During my many years here at Fox News, I’ve had the opportunity to interview many reputable autism experts. One thing I always come away with from our discussions is they all seem to have a sense of optimism about the outcomes for many of these children. So to me, these recent findings seem to be a continuum of that positive hope.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.