Although autism is considered life-long, about one in 14 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will no longer show symptoms that meet the diagnostic criteria for ASD by the time they reach elementary school, according to a new study. However, the research presented April 26 at the Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting in San Diego, found that these children continue to have other problems that require additional educational support.
“When an early ASD diagnosis resolves, there are often other learning and emotional/behavioral diagnoses that remain,” lead researcher Lisa Shulman, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and attending physician at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, said in a news release.
For the study, Shulman and her colleagues reviewed data on 38 children diagnosed with ASD between 2003 and 2013 whose four-year follow-up showed their symptoms had resolved. The kids were among 569 children who had been diagnosed with ASD by a multidisciplinary team from a university-affiliated early intervention program designed to help children cope with the disorder.
The children participating in the intervention program lived in the Bronx and came from diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Among the group, 44 percent were Hispanic, 36 percent were white and 10 percent were black. The researchers reported 46 percent were on Medicaid.
After analyzing the data of the 38 children who no longer met the criteria for an ASD diagnosis, the research team found that 92 percent had residual learning and/or emotional and behavioral impairment. Only three of the 38 children had no diagnosis at all.
Shulman and her team found that 68 percent of the kids had learning/language disabilities and nearly half had problems with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or disruptive behaviors. In addition, 24 percent had problems with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or selective mutism.
Of critical importance was the team’s finding that nearly three-quarters of the group of 38 continued to need academic supports such as a small class setting or resource room. Despite this need, the researchers noted that 26 percent of the children were in mainstream academic settings without support, while only 13 percent were receiving educational help. An additional 29 percent were in integrated settings and 21 percent were in self-contained classrooms.
Awareness of the residual problems that can linger after ASD symptoms disappear and the need for educational support are essential to the well-being of these children, observed the researchers. “Understanding the full range of possible positive outcomes in this scenario is important information for parents, clinicians and the educational system,” said Shulman.