Lorene Amet: Right approach needed to treat children with autism

A STUDY revealing that “children can grow out of autism” should cause consternation in the ranks of those adherents to the traditional view of autism as “lifelong and incurable”.

The study is a breakthrough and contrasts with earlier studies in as much as it focuses on 34 individuals with known and well-documented early diagnosis of autism who have lost fully their diagnosis.

A wide range of social, communicative, cognitive and adaptive skills were assessed and no distinction could be found with a group of typically developing children.

While the parameters that led to these recoveries, including the interventions received, are currently under investigation, the study demonstrates unequivocally that recovering from autism is possible.

So where does this leave us with regard to our understanding of the condition, and intervention strategies?

A growing number of studies have demonstrated that autism is a disorder that is triggered by environment factors and is associated with treatable co-morbid health issues. These health issues impact on prognosis, as well as on the behavioural, social and cognitive presentation of the individuals.

Clinicians working with children with autism have reported that addressing these co-morbidities leads to significant improvement in functioning and that for as many as 25 per cent of them, it is to such a high degree that the changes are seen as life changing.

This study provides further evidence that recovering from autism is indeed possible and opens up the possibility of improvement.

As the editor of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry puts it, outcomes such as “emergence from isolation into engagement with the world and full participation in an ordinary life, even whilst retaining significant symptoms” are most desirable.

Autism is treatable. Today in Scottish schools one child in 85 has an autism diagnosis. It is vital for these children that there is a new, more positive and dynamic approach to this devastating condition.

• Lorene Amet is principal scientist at Autism Treatment Trust in Edinburgh.