By John Barnard, M. Sc. Ed., BCBA
A recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reported that some children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may outgrow symptoms as they grow older. This type of news may seem encouraging to many families but, based upon my personal experiences, I worry about the long-term implications.
Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas and colleagues from UCLA first published data in the late 1980’s that demonstrated that young children with autism could be mainstreamed without support and be indistinguishable from their neuro-typical peers. These data have since been replicated.
The students in Lovaas’ research received an intensive ABA-based intervention that included up to 40 hours of individual instruction over a period of two years. While some of our instructional strategies have changed over the years, the conclusion that children with autism require intensive intervention within a specialized environment has not.
Autism is now widely considered to be an epidemic, with one in 49 children in New Jersey affected. Having had the personal experience of working with some students who have met criteria for the removal of the autism diagnosis, I can tell you that it took a lot of hard work by teachers, clinicians, and especially family members. I do not believe that these children merely “outgrew” the diagnosis.
So, while some may “outgrow” autism, most will not. I worry that parents may hear news like this NIH study and choose to wait rather than seeking out evidence-based interventions like ABA.
We need to give this generation of students with autism and their families hope for the future that is based in proven treatments; even while research into that causes of autism continues.
John Barnard is a clinician and educator with 20 years of experience working with individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in both home-based and center-based instructional environments.