Some children may ‘grow out’ of autism, suggests study

Many children diagnosed with autism at a young age no longer display symptoms when they are older, researchers say.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics, found one-third of youngsters who had ever been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder no longer had the diagnosis at the time their parents were surveyed.

The researchers noted in their report, published in Pediatrics, that past studies have also found some children who originally have an autism spectrum disorder eventually lose that diagnosis and are no longer considered autistic.

However, whether this is due to a mistaken first diagnosis or actual changes taking place in their brains is controversial.

A team, led by Dr Andrew Zimmerman from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, studied data from a phone survey of 92,000 parents of children aged 17 and younger in the U.S in 2007 and 2008.

In total, 1,366 said their child had a past or current diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. In 453 of those cases, children had been diagnosed by a doctor of having a disorder but parents said they didn’t have one anymore.

The researchers found children with a learning disability or delayed development were more likely to continue to be classed as autistic. The same was true for older children who also suffered from epilepsy and anxiety.

However, children or teenagers with early hearing problems were less likely to be considered autistic later on.

The team noted that autism tends to go hand in hand with a variety of other mental and behavioural disorders.

They speculated these could complicate the diagnosis, or slow down any improvement in children who do get diagnosed and treated early.

Experts disagree about whether it’s possible for kids who are diagnosed correctly with one of the autism-spectrum disorders to improve to the point where they are no longer affected.

Professor Johhn Matson, at Louisiana State University said: ‘When you’re autistic, you’re autistic. It’s a very stable condition.’

He said even when symptoms improve, people with autism have to keep getting treatment and work to maintain that progress.

Dr Zimmerman argued that recognizing autism early and starting treatment can increase the likelihood for real, lasting improvement.

‘It’s not unusual to see a child start out with more severe autism and then become more moderate and even mild as the years go by.

‘A lot of the kids are improving, and we don’t really know why, except we know there’s a lot of moldability of the developing brain,’ he said.

‘We think that earlier treatment is essential and there are reasons to think that we can improve the kids. I’m very optimistic.’

Dr Georgina Gomez-de-la-Cuesta, Action Research Leader for The National Autistic Society, said:Autism is a serious, lifelong and disabling condition – a child with autism will grow up to be an adult with autism.

‘While there is no cure for autism, securing the right support, implementing strategies to manage behaviours and creating the best environment can help manage anxieties and sensory difficulties associated with the condition.

‘Although this could lead to improvements in behaviour, the underlying autism remains and can continue to pose very real challenges at every stage in life

Cartoon trains teach autistic children about emotions

Cartoon trains teach autistic children about emotions


Thomas The Tank Engine

On the right track … Thomas the Tank Engine.

THE Reverend W. Awdry, the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine, was on to something in 1943 when he developed the smiling steam engine. It turns out that putting a human face on a cartoon train, bus or tram can help children with autism understand emotions.
The head of the University of Cambridge’s Autism Research Centre, Simon Baron-Cohen, conducted a study using a series of 15 animated stories called The Transporters. Each episode focused on a different emotion – from simple ones such as happy, sad and angry to more complex emotions such as sorry, ashamed, tired and joking.
The findings, published in the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders in November, showed children with autism spectrum conditions had improved emotion recognition after watching the 3D program for 15 minutes a day over a month.
Professor Baron-Cohen said using mechanical vehicles also helped, as things such as trains and trams behaved in predictable ways.
”Children with autism and Asperger syndrome love order and predictability. So they shy away from people. To them, we’re confusing and unpredictable,” he said.
Autism is a development disorder characterised by impaired social interaction and communication skills, which can impact on academic performance.
”Often these children are not very motivated to learn, so part of the problem in the past has been how do you persuade a child to take part in social skills training,” Professor Baron-Cohen said.
But the animated series, which is aimed at two- to eight-year-olds and uses objects children with autism enjoy, appears to work.
Children with autism who participated in the study, aged four to seven, caught up with other children in their ability to recognise emotions – a skill present from at least 10 weeks of age in typically developing infants.
Visiting Sydney this week, Professor Baron-Cohen said the goal of the project was to teach autistic children to recognise ”real emotions on real people”, so real-life faces of actors were used in the The Transporters series instead of animated cartoon faces.
”We want to use the animated vehicle as a bridge into our world but in order to do that we have to join their predictable world,” he said. ”This was a way to meet them half way.”
The eight characters created for the series are part of a toy set in a boy’s bedroom and include trams, cable cars, a funicular railway and a chain ferry. The toys move in a predictable, repetitive path restricted to the tracks or cables they move on.
”[This] allows affective information that would otherwise be confusing to become more intelligible and appealing to the autistic mind,” the study concluded
Number of children with autism soars by more than 50 per cent in five years

Number of children with autism soars by more than 50 per cent in five years

The number of schoolchildren who are classified as being autistic has soared by 56 per cent in the last five years.

Number of children with autism soars by more than 50 per cent in five years

Photo: Getty Images

There are now 61,570 schoolchildren in the state-funded sector that have been recorded as having some kind of autistic spectrum disorder and they make up almost one percent of the entire school population.

Just five years ago, the number of children classified as being autistic was just 39,465 and they accounted for just 0.5 per cent of the school population.

The Government’s definition of autism is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people, and how a person makes sense of the world around them.

The term is used to cover a variety of autistic conditions including Asperger’s syndrome. Data from the Department of Education shows that in 2006 autistic children made up just one in every 200 pupils.

The latest figures put that ratio at one in every 125 children. Autism can cause learning problems for children.

Around 20percent of autistic pupils have been suspended from school more than once and around 50percent say they have been bullied at school.

The USA has seen a similar rise in the number of children with autism. Its Government estimates the cost of schooling a child with the condition is treble the figure for a child that does not need any extra assistance.

Some experts fear the sharp rise in autism may be more down to parents trying to seek an advantage for their child rather than a genuine ailment.

Sociology professor Frank Furedi, who wrote Wasted: Why Education Isn’t Educating, said: “There has been a proliferation for dispensation on the grounds of autism.

“It is unlikely to be a genuine unprecedented increase in autism, rather an institutional use of this condition to allow people to get easier access to resources.

“This activity ends up trivialising what is a very serious condition for some children.”

Statistics from schools in England shows that in the same five year period that has seen autism rise, there has also been an increase on 15percent in the numbers of children registered as having behavioural, emotional or social difficulties to a total of 158,015.

It means that in total there are now 701,000 children, almost one in ten schoolchildren, who are classified as having some kind of special needs.

Nick Seaton, a spokesman for the Campaign for Real Education, said: “Obviously children with autism need special treatment.

“But the rapid increase does suggest that perhaps the figures should be looked at again.

“Children should not be classified as having special needs too easily. The rise should be examined closely because it has a knock-on effect for teachers, schools and the pupils themselves.”

Caroline Hattersley, Head of Information, Advice and Advocacy at The National Autistic Society, said: “A recent NHS study revealed that the prevalence of autism is 1 in 100 and that the same rate applies for adults as for children. We know that with accurate diagnosis the right support can be put in place so that children with autism can reach their full potential.

“It’s very likely that all teachers and school staff will come into contact with children with autism at some stage during their teaching career, so it’s vital that they receive quality training and strategies to support these children in the classroom.”

A Department of Education spokesman said: “Schools receive funding to meet their duty to support any child with special educational needs, including autism.

In addition, through the Autism Education Trust, we are funding autism training for teachers. “We’re proposing the biggest programme of reforms in 30 years to help children and young people with special educational need or disabilities, including those with autism.

“We recently announced 20 pathfinder areas that will be testing out some of the main proposals from the Special Educational needs and disability Green Paper. This includes trialling a new, single education, health and care plan that can cover children and young people aged birth to 25.”

Actress Emily Mortimer buys film rights to Kathy Lette’s tale about an autistic boy

Actress Emily Mortimer buys film rights to Kathy Lette’s tale about an autistic boy

Emily Mortimer, the daughter of Sir John Mortimer, is to turn Kathy Lette’s novel about a middle-class mother and her autistic child into a film.

Emily Mortimer, who will play the mother in ‘The Boy Who Fell to Earth’ Photo: Mark Sullivan

Having forged a successful career as a Hollywood actress, Emily Mortimer is now moving into film production. The 40-year-old daughter of the playwright Sir John Mortimer has bought the film rights to Kathy Lette’s new novel, The Boy Who Fell to Earth, about a middle-class mother’s coping alone with an autistic child.

“She’s going to play the mother,” Lette tells Mandrake at the Contemporary Art Society Auction Gala, at the Farmiloe Building in Clerkenwell. “It’s very heartfelt, as the book deals with Asperger’s from the mother’s perspective.”

Lette would like to write the script. “I’ve written many screenplays, but they’ve never been made,” the author says. “I did one for Harvey Weinstein that was 14 drafts and then they said, ‘Oh, no, this isn’t going to work’.”

Month: March 2012