Time has a misleading headline -- "New Study Suggests Autism Can be ‘Outgrown’" -- but some useful content:
But while the research suggests that some children do extremely well, it’s also important not to give false hope or add to the guilt felt by some parents over their children’s prognosis, the researchers stress. “This is generally a lifelong disability,” says Fein. “I’ve seen thousands of children who had the best possible interventions continue to have significant intellectual disability and severe language deficits and we don’t know how to remediate those things.”
Autism advocates have other serious concerns about the research. “We don’t think the idea that people ‘outgrow’ autism—or can be made through treatment to become non-autistic— is accurate,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Instead, he says study participants are likely “passing,” or acting non-autistic in order to fit in. Inside, they may be experiencing the same urges to engage in repetitive behavior and endlessly talk about their obsessions, but they have learned to channel their intense drives into repressing this and behaving the way normal people expect.The Wall Street Journal, while also using the o-word, includes a note of caution:
Based on previous studies, Dr. Fein estimates 10% to 20% of children who were diagnosed with autism may achieve optimal outcomes.
Some experts caution that even people who no longer meet diagnostic criteria for autism may have subtle, residual idiosyncrasies.
Fred Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, who wasn't involved in the recent study, described one former patient who has a master's degree, goes to work and lives on his own, but every night he eats the same meal, canned fish, reads on the computer about software and then goes to bed.
In many ways he could be considered as having an optimal outcome, said Dr. Volkmar. At the same time, the man wants to have a girlfriend but doesn't know how to talk about subjects outside of his one narrow interest, and he serves canned fish to anyone he has over.