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The Kids Who Beat Autism

Stashed in: Young Americans, Awesome, Autism, humanity

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For reasons no one understands, a minority of children diagnosed with autism appears to completely be "cured" of it by young adulthood. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but this is a fascinating area of research.

I had no idea that 1.5% of US children have autism now:

The findings come at a time when the number of autism cases nationwide appears to be climbing rapidly. No nationally representative study of autism’s prevalence exists, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent study of 11 communities in the United States found that one in 68 children has autism, up from one in 88 two years earlier. Experts attribute much of that increase to greater awareness of the disease and its symptoms, as well as to broader diagnostic criteria. Some researchers say additional factors — among them toxic substances and older parental age — may contribute to the rise as well. Scientists suspect that what is called autism may actually be an array of distinct conditions that have different genetic and environmental etiologies but happen to produce similar symptoms. If true, it could help explain why some children progress so much while others don’t.

The research by Fein and Lord doesn’t try to determine what causes autism or what exactly makes it go away — only that it sometimes disappears. There do, however, seem to be some clues, like the role of I.Q.: The children in Lord’s study who had a nonverbal I.Q. of less than 70 at age 2 all remained autistic. But among those with a nonverbal I.Q. of at least 70, one-quarter eventually became nonautistic, even though their symptoms at diagnosis were as severe as those of children with a comparable I.Q. who remained autistic (Fein’s study, by design, included only people with at least an average I.Q.) Other research has shown that autistic children with better motor skills, better receptive language skills and more willingness to imitate others also tend to progress more swiftly, even if they don’t stop being autistic. So do children who make striking improvements early on, especially in the first year of treatment — perhaps a sign that something about their brains or their kind of autism enables them to learn more readily. Researchers also say that parental involvement — acting as a child’s advocate, pushing for services, working with the child at home — seems to correlate with more improvements in symptoms. Financial resources, no doubt, help too.

That last sentence is chilling in its ruthless efficiency. 

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