Can children outgrow autism?

A study recently published in the Journal of Child Neurology suggests that children may outgrow autism. We spoke to Dr. J. Thomas Megerian, pediatric neurologist and clinical director of the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s, about what parents should know about these findings.

What can providers tell parents about the study’s findings?

Many parents ask me, “Will my child outgrow autism?” and I always tell them that what we hope for is that with services and growth, the child will improve so much that after as little as a few years, they no longer meet the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Outgrowing the label may mean they have learned to compensate or overcome some challenges like socialization or repetitive movements. They may have little features left of ASD, and what symptoms they do have, may cease to interfere with their development or daily lives. When they have progressed to the point where they have outgrown the label, any remaining traits may be so small that only a parent would notice, but a new person who has just met the child wouldn’t pick up on anything.

However, I advise my patients’ parents that if and when their child outgrows the label of autism, they may still have other co-occurring issues like anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities that require ongoing care.

So yes, indeed this study should give parents hope surrounding a child’s ability to outgrow the autism label, despite their other potential ongoing issues.

In some instances, schools may suggest a decrease in services because a child has improved and outgrown the label of autism. That same child may still be struggling with organization or learning certain subjects. Parents may be in a position to say that just because their child has outgrown the autism label doesn’t mean they do not have a need for additional support.

What does life look like for a child previously diagnosed with autism who is no longer on the spectrum?

Learning disabilities, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorder are common among children with ASD. Rates of other disorders are common among children with autism, including: gastrointestinal disorders, ear infections, seizures and anxiety. They may clear up later in life or become better managed, but they don’t necessarily go away at the same time as their autism label.

Residual symptoms of these co-occurring diagnoses may last into adulthood. For example, a child may outgrow their ASD label but still have anxiety that can be managed by cognitive behavioral therapy.

Why is early detection and early intervention of autism so important?

Early detection and intervention help many kids outgrow the autism label in the future due to improvements with socialization and repetitive behavior. It’s important for people to remember that just because they have lost the autism label doesn’t mean they don’t have other diagnoses or disorders that may require ongoing treatment.

There’s no question that early intervention makes a big difference in helping kids with the potential to outgrow their ASD diagnoses achieve that milestone even sooner. The trajectory has changed for many of those kids.

CHOC Children’s and Thompson Foundation Announce New Autism Center

CHOC Children’s and the William and Nancy Thompson Family Foundation (Thompson Family Foundation) recently unveiled a new collaboration that expands our region’s capacity to serve children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families. The Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s, named in honor of a $10 million founding gift, will be devoted to evaluating children as early as possible to promote better outcomes; engaging children whose behaviors diminish quality of life for them and their families; and establishing a long-term support system for children with complex care needs.

Bill and Nancy Thompson

Set to open in early 2019, the Thompson Autism Center will also, through a partnership with Chapman University, assist families in navigating the education system from preschool to college. In support of the Thompson Family Foundation’s vision to bring hope to children with ASD and their families, the Thompson Autism Center will participate in national research networks.

“A national leader, the Thompson Family Foundation has earned a stellar reputation for expanding services, research, education and advocacy for children with ASD and their families. We are grateful for their generous support and their commitment to enrich so many lives here in Orange County,” said CHOC Children’s President and CEO Kimberly Chavalas Cripe.

The Thompson Autism Center will focus on three high-need populations:

  • Early intervention has been shown to significantly improve the development of basic cognitive, relational and communications skills; however, most children are not diagnosed with ASD until their fourth birthdays. The Thompson Autism Center will assess, treat, develop care plans and provide follow-up services for undiagnosed children, ages 1 – 6.
  • Some children with ASD communicate with negative behaviors   such as aggression and self-injury, resulting in physical, emotional and social impacts on them, their parents and siblings. The Thompson Autism Center will partner with families to provide a multi-tiered intervention program.
  • Epilepsy, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal issues and other medical problems commonly occur in children with ASD. The Thompson Autism Center will provide comprehensive, interdisciplinary care and family support services to address ASD and its common co-occurring conditions.

“We take pride in collaborating with institutions and health care professionals who share our vision to dramatically improve the lives of children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders and their families, “said Bill Thompson, co-founder, Thompson Foundation. “Our collaboration with CHOC Children’s will complement and expand on the work already being done in Orange County, making a lasting impact on the community and bringing hope to children and families affected by ASD.”

The Thompson Autism Center will be located at 170 S. Main Street in Orange, only a few blocks from CHOC’s main hospital campus. The two-story, approximately 20,000-square-foot facility will be designed by FKP/CannonDesign, an architectural and design firm with national experience in neuroscience, brain and autism projects at children’s hospitals.

Dr. Philip Schwartz Discusses Autism Research

Researchers are studying autism, a brain disease, by turning skin cells into brain cells through genetic manipulation, Philip Schwartz, Ph.D., a senior scientist at CHOC Children’s Research Institute, tells “American Health Journal.”

Scientists are using these cells with a goal to develop drug therapies for autism, as well as a diagnostic tool for the disorder, Dr. Schwartz says.

Learn more about autism research in “American Health Journal,” a television program that airs on PBS and other national network affiliates that reach more than 30 million households.

Each 30-minute episode features six segments with a diverse range of medical specialists discussing a full spectrum of health topics. For more information, visit www.discoverhealth.tv.

Philip Schwartz, Ph.D., is nationally recognized for his research in the stem cell field. His research focuses on the use of stem cells to understand the neurobiological causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. With funding support from CHOC, Dr. Schwartz established the National Human Neural Stem Cell Resource (NHNSCR) in 2001 to support national research in the field of neural stem cells by providing a reliable source for these cells to investigators nationwide

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