“…there is this subgroup of kids who start out having autism and…lose those symptoms…”
-Geraldine Dawson, psychologist/researcher at Duke University’s department of psychiatry and the Institute for Brain Sciences
“Good morning,” says Wonder Boy. He sits beside Sister Sunshine, a charismatic charmer, dancer and performer with autism. Her glittery hair ribbon bobs as she hugs him. Nearby, a friend in bright yellow peeks at Wonder Boy without turning and a boy creates a heart with his fingers. Another child offers silent eye contact; he likes baseball, music - and Sister Sunshine.
A 2013 study followed 85 children diagnosed with autism at age 2. By 19 years old, 9% of the study group “no longer met the criteria for the disorder.” This was described as a Very Positive Outcome:
Michael, aged 3, showed no interest in language, threw himself into walls, had “stunning tantrums.” His parents were told he should be institutionalized.
Instead, Michael’s parents developed a rigorous 40-hour/week home program. By age 8, Michael’s speech and behavior were at grade level. As a teenager, despite “lingering social deficits,” Michael no longer displayed autism symptoms.
Children in the study who overcame autism were “twice as likely to have received behavioral therapy” than the 91% who retained characteristics of autism. The only other consistent techniques? Patience, perseverance, parental involvement.
No one knows for sure why some kids overcome autism and others don’t.
Experts hypothesize that some autism-like symptoms may be caused by “genetic and environmental etiologies that” merely look like autism. In other words, some individuals “outgrow” diagnoses because they don’t, in fact, have autism.
“I’ve been studying autistic kids for 40 years…and I’m pretty good at what I do. But I can’t predict who is going to get better and who’s not...”
-Deborah Fein, clinical neuropsychologist/instructor at the University of Connecticut
Most kids don’t “beat” autism. But each can hone gifts and talents specific to individual ability.
For example? Model RJ Peete, whose parents were told he’d never communicate, have friends or participate in school. And Tarik El-Abour, who didn’t speak until he was 6 years old and was just drafted by the Kansas City Royals. And Zeke Gibson, who participated in an art exhibit and is well liked in his high school.
“To all the kids with autism…you can do anything you want to.”
-RJ Peete, diagnosed with autism at age 3
“Beating autism” is a bonus possibility that animates the pageant of Very Positive Outcomes for everyone. Dancers, heart makers, baseball enthusiasts, musicians, friends. These Very Positive Outcomes aren’t known until achieved.
In life and autism, the happiest results are to become the best you possible, in spite of life’s unique challenges.
“…Matthew’s autism wasn’t the enemy; it’s what he is…he’s happier than a lot of typically developing kids his age. And we get a lot of joy from him. He’s very cuddly. He gives us endless kisses. I consider all that a victory.”