Sunday, June 15, 2014

Can your child recover from autism?

The results of a study on early intervention for children on the autism spectrum, performed by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), are very encouraging.  The researchers followed 14 young children receiving intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) over the course of three years. Although there are many varieties of early intervention, ABA is the method of treatment most often recommended by professionals because it is the only method of autism treatment that is scientifically backed. This means that results achieved utilizing ABA methodology are proven and documented using scientific clinical studies such as this one.
According to their press release, the CARD study showed improvement in all of the children who participated, and claims 43% of participants “no longer display clinical symptoms of autism.” These results are extremely encouraging and send a message of hope to all parents that with the right interventions, children can recover from autism. This type of study were beneficial to the process that led to the bill mandating insurance companies to pay for ABA therapy for constituents diagnosed with autism in California and several other states.  Insurance claims for ABA were often rejected in the past on the basis that ABA therapy was experimental in nature.

Without trying to squash any hope brought about by this study, because it is very positive, we do need to be cautious in the conclusions we draw from it. The sample size of this study, 14 children, is very small and does by no means prove that all children will be able to recover from autism. We also need to be careful on how we define “recovered” or “cured”. It is true that many children grow out of the symptoms of autism and can eventually fall off the spectrum (as measured by standard assessment tools). However, many of these children continue to have a tendency towards problematic behaviors. These behaviors often reappear during times of change or stress. If a child and parents are continuing to receive proper ABA treatment and training, the reoccurrences can be minimized and even prevented.

Since the study was performed on children receiving early intervention, the participants are still very young. By diagnosing them as recovered at such a young age, we may be preventing them from receiving the continued services they need to ensure proper development. So while it is nice to believe that children can recover from autism, we also need to be careful about being overly optimistic.

For parents of children in the spectrum, the road is not easy. Receiving direct in-home intervention services, usually daily, can be intrusive. Parents (at least one of them) are recommended to participate in session in order to receive the hands-on training necessary to carry on the intervention when the clinical team is not present, thus providing their child with the necessary treatment for most of his/her waking hours. President Barack Obama just urged fathers to get more involved in their kids' lives in his weekly radio and Internet address this Father’s day weekend. Obama said “being able to have a child doesn't make you a man, but having the courage to raise one does.”  To read the entire article click on

Also, identifying the right provider requires education and experience. Families usually receive services from different companies until they learn the process and are equipped to choose.

It is definitely challenging. However, it is currently the only way. Consider it an investment, a sacrifice that parents make for the family’s quality of life.

The good news are that there is hope. And that is what matters.

Daniel Adatto, BCBA

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