Can Autism Go Away? The Science in Clear Terms

Parents all have nearly identical desires for their young ones; they want their children to be happy and healthy. So, receiving an autism diagnosis can understandably bring about feelings of fear and uncertainty. Parents may find themselves struggling with the news and seeking out any information or potential solutions. In doing so, they may come across articles or hear about new diets, medications, or interventions that promise to rid their child of autism. However, parents must understand this: autism has no cure. No combination of medications or therapies will lead to autism going away. Autism is not an illness that can be cured; it is a lifelong condition. It will always be a part of the child’s identity.

I write this so candidly, not in an attempt to be negative or to scare parents, but to emphasize the importance of accepting that autism is a permanent condition. But even more importantly, I want parents to understand that autism and happiness or health are not mutually exclusive. An autistic child can be just as happy and healthy as any other typically developing child; they may just need some extra support to communicate or complete tasks. With the right support and care, autistic children can lead fulfilling lives. Children with autism have every opportunity to be happy, healthy, caring, unique, and wonderful.

Debunking the Myth

In recent years, there has been a prevailing belief among some parents and individuals that autism can be cured or simply disappear over time. This belief often arises from a sincere desire for hope and relief from the challenges that come with an autism diagnosis. While it’s true that there are many interventions available that can help alleviate certain symptoms and improve quality of life, it’s important to clarify that none of these interventions offer a cure. I’ve had the privilege of working closely with children who have tried a variety of interventions, including medications, dietary changes, and innovative therapies. Despite their dedication and efforts, one consistent truth remained: autism persisted in each of these cases. A combination of therapies may help, but again, there is no known cure.

A thorough review of scientific literature and expert opinions reveals a consensus: autism is a lifelong condition. Researchers in the fields of neurology, psychology, psychiatry, behavioral analysis, and developmental science have concluded time and time again that while individuals with autism may experience changes in behavior or symptom severity over time, the core features of autism persist throughout their lives. Accepting these findings as truth can help parents and caregivers to have more realistic expectations and can help them make decisions regarding interventions and support strategies.

It is essential to distinguish between the concept of “outgrowing” certain symptoms associated with autism and the misconception that autism itself can vanish. Over time, autistic children may demonstrate improvements in certain areas or may no longer engage in behaviors that were seen as autistic traits. Various therapies, such as speech therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA) may lead to behavior changes and increased communication. Their hobbies may change, or the way they play with toys may shift over time. Parents may observe these changes and believe it is possible to grow out of autism. Although changes in behavior may be observed, these changes do not equate to the complete eradication of autism. Rather, they reflect the individual’s growth and adaptation over time.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Can Autism go away? The science says no.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), commonly known as just “autism,” is a condition that is characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction. It is often diagnosed in early childhood, although later diagnoses are not unheard of. It is also characterized by restricted and repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. It is most certainly a spectrum in that it is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Some individuals may have mild symptoms and be able to function independently, while others may require more significant support in their daily lives. Some may struggle more with social situations, while others may present more with fixed and repetitive behaviors. Some may struggle with behavioral concerns, while others may struggle more on an emotional level. No two people with autism will experience it in the same way.

Understanding the differences in symptoms and severity within the autism spectrum is required, especially since each person will have unique needs and accommodations necessary to thrive. Some ASD symptoms include difficulty understanding social cues, challenges in communication, struggles in developing or maintaining relationships, sensitivity to sensory stimuli, and strict adherence to routines. These characteristics may manifest differently in each person.

While we have not yet been able to pinpoint exact causes, it is believed that autism is due to a mix of genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. Genetic predisposition, prenatal factors (e.g., infections or exposure to substances), and early brain development all seem to play a role. It’s important to talk about these causes carefully since autism is a complex issue. Scientists are working hard to understand it better, which helps us provide better support for people on the autism spectrum.

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Developmental Changes and Autism

While autism is a lifelong condition, it’s important to recognize that individuals on the spectrum can experience changes in their symptoms and behaviors as they grow and mature. The way that presents and how it affects the individual will grow along with them. For example, self-stimulatory behaviors (e.g., spinning or hand-flapping) disappear over time because of social pressures or change form. Their social skills may also change due to social pressures. Problem behaviors may decrease as they learn to navigate their world to meet their needs. Early intervention and therapy can play a crucial role in managing these symptoms and supporting developmental progress, setting them up for success early on in their lives. 

Early intervention programs and therapies (such as ABA, occupational therapy, and speech therapy) are designed to provide support during critical stages of development. These interventions can help individuals with autism with social interactions, communication, and sensory sensitivities. Research has shown that early and intensive interventions can lead to significant improvements in behavior and overall functioning. 

For instance, I have worked with a child we will call Jared, a four-year-old boy diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. When Jared first began receiving intervention services, he struggled with severe problem behaviors such as aggression and property destruction. He would undress in public and would headbutt others. His communication abilities were minimal, making it challenging for him to express his needs and wants effectively. However, with consistent support and interventions made specifically for him, Jared began to make remarkable progress.

Over time, Jared’s problem behaviors significantly decreased, with instances of his concerning behaviors nearing zero. He was taught to vocalize his needs and wants more effectively, seriously reducing his frustration and enhancing his ability to engage with others. As he continued to participate in intervention programs, Jared began to really shine as an individual, and he became friends with nearly every other individual in the clinic, including adults and children. It was incredible to watch and even more incredible to be a part of. He was around 6 years old when he left the program. The changes that had occurred in him over around 2 years were significant, and he would continue changing even after he had left the program. His symptoms will continue to evolve, and he will continue to adapt.

The Role of Interventions and Therapies

Interventions-Therapies


Jared’s journey not only shows how the presentation of autism can change but also the overall power of interventions that are available for people with autism. At the age of four, Jared faced some seriously significant challenges. He had a hard time navigating the world and an even harder time communicating what he needed with others. However, with a solid support system and personalized interventions, Jared began to make remarkable progress. His journey, spanning over two years, showcased the significant changes that can occur with targeted interventions and dedicated support.

The role of interventions and therapies in Jared’s progress cannot be overstated. During the time that I had worked with him, he participated in ABA therapy, speech therapy, group therapy, and occupational therapy. Using his ABA sessions, we set targets and focused on reducing problem behaviors by teaching him various life skills using the principles of behaviorism. His speech therapist focused on articulation and communication skills and helped him to apply these skills during group therapy. His occupational therapist helped him with sensory concerns and fine motor skills. Each of these types of therapies played a crucial role in addressing Jared’s specific needs and challenges. These interventions aimed not to “cure” autism but rather to enhance Jared’s quality of life. Personalized treatment plans were key in addressing Jared’s individual needs effectively. As his support team, we provided him with the tools and strategies necessary to thrive with autism.

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