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To a parent whose child has been diagnosed with Autism, there could no be no better news of hope – that the child will outgrow the symptoms over time reports Los Angeles Times.

What keeps the dream alive is that in rare cases it comes true. Several studies over the years have documented cases of children who have improved so much that they no longer meet the criteria for diagnosis or require extra support in school.

These children have been a puzzle to researchers. What distinguishes them from people for whom autism is a lifelong condition? What distinguishes them from people with typical early childhood development?

Deborah Fein, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut, is beginning to answer those questions. In a study published in January mid in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, her team recruited 34 people who had been diagnosed with autism early in life but now appear to be functioning normally.

The study was limited to people who had been diagnosed by autism experts — an attempt to avoid cases in which the label had been used improperly. In addition, records documented the one-time presence of the disorder’s hallmark symptoms: problems with socialisation and communication, and repetitive behaviours or obsessive interests. The research subjects ranged from ages 8 to 21.

For comparison, the authors assembled two other groups: 34 people whose development was normal and 44 who have autism without an intellectual disability.

In tests looking at socialisation and communication, they performed as well as the typical children. Three, however, scored below average in facial recognition — a common difficulty in autism.

The study also reviewed early developmental history and compared the children who seemed to grow out of their autism with those who did not. The two groups had equally severe problems with communication and repetitive behaviours. But the children who shed the diagnosis started out with milder social difficulties.

The researchers also conducted brain scans and gathered data looking at executive function, academic performance, psychiatric functioning, memory, language and treatment history. Those results will be reported in subsequent studies.

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