As children age, some who were diagnosed as autistic lose their symptoms and their autism diagnosis.

The new research, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and conducted by a group of investigators from the University of Connecticut, looked at 34 children who had been diagnosed with autism in childhood, but later in life functioned as well as 34 other school children without any autistic symptoms.

Generally, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are lifelong disabilities, and studies suggest that people with an ASD do not normally lose their diagnosis. However, there is a small chance they could and the topic is still up for debate.

When it occurs, experts are often left asking these questions:

  • is this an unusual event?
  • was the person originally misdiagnosed?
  • did they lose the full diagnosis but still suffer from communication and social impairments?
  • did they lose all symptoms and function socially within a normal range?

The current study measured the children who attended school together and compared their scores on cognitive and observational tests, as well as reports from the youths’ teachers and parents. The researchers found the autistic students to be nearly identical to their non-autistic classmates, showing no issues with communication, socializing, and facial recognition.

The investigators also examined a separate group of 44 children of the same sex, age, and non-verbal IQ level who were diagnosed with “high-functioning” autism, meaning they were not greatly affected by their condition.

Researchers discovered that the group who had no recognizable signs of autism and had less social shortfalls than the high-functioning autism group during early childhood, did have other autism symptoms, such as communication issues and repetitive behaviors that were just as serious.

The researchers concluded that “high-functioning” autistic children, as they grew, shed the recognizable symptoms of autism. However, they confirmed, their original diagnoses were considered to be accurate as well.

The reasoning behind why the symptoms disappear have a number of theories. Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said, “Although the diagnosis of autism is not usually lost over time, the findings suggest that there is a very wide range of possible outcomes.”

The current study’s results could suggest there are issues with the methods used to diagnose autism, since the condition affects kids in several different ways.

In 2007, a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that symptoms of autism improve with age. They saw behaviors such as communication abilities, problems conversing with others, and repetitive motions change as individuals progressed through adolescence.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald