In the past few years, mainstream autism professionals and researchers are beginning to acknowledge something that many parents knew all along: that autism recovery is possible. Cases of recovered children have travelled beyond academic journals to appear in the New York Times, Slate Magazine and the Daily Mail.
"People with autism are just like anyone else and can be capable of learning," stated Professor Simon Baron-Cohen. As one of the U.K.'s leading experts on autism and a psychologist at Cambridge University, he believes that behavioural therapies "can change the nature of their brains — because when any child learns, this process must make changes in their brain".
Researchers (such as Prof. Molly Helt, Prof. Elizabeth Kelley, Prof. Marcel Kinsbourne, Prof. Hilary Boorstein, Prof. Deborah Fein, Dr. Juhi Pandey and Dr. Martha Herbert) have discovered that a few factors can increase the chances of autism recovery:
· Earlier age of diagnosis and treatment
· The use of behavioural treatment
· Relatively higher intelligence
· Receptive language
· Verbal and motor imitation
· Good motor development
While parents may not be able to control all the attributes of their child, they can choose to send their child for early intervention. Parents (such as those featured in the news) have found that intensive treatment using ABA, a proven behavioural treatment method, results in their autistic child making huge improvements.
Although parents have also encountered limitations with traditional ‘robotic' ABA, a newer advanced version of ABA which focuses on Verbal Behaviour addresses these. ABA-VB therapists focus on letting children learn in real-life settings, engage the natural motivation of the child rather than rely on artificial rewards and ensure that children generalise the concepts that they learn.
We do acknowledge that for every innovation, there will always be skeptics. Autism recovery is a topic that some people consider controversial, because autism is a "lifelong condition" and "nothing can be done about autism". We invite parents to conduct their own research, and give autism recovery the benefit of the doubt.
Perhaps an excerpt from one of the news articles will help parents choose hope over resignation:
Another person who eventually left his diagnosis behind has a similar story. Jake Exkorn was a chatty, active 1-year-old who gradually lost interest in other children, then stopped responding to his name, and finally stopped speaking. At age 2 he was diagnosed with autism. For the next two years, he spent more than 40 hours a week in therapy, relearning the skills he had lost: how to clap and wave, how to make eye contact, how to play with other children.
"At first Jake merely imitated his therapists or his parents, spurred by the promise of an M&M or an Oreo. But once Jake developed spontaneous language, his mother, Karen Siff Exkorn, says, "it was like someone hit the fast-forward button."
By the time Jake was 4, a friend watching him at a birthday party remarked that he seemed just like any other preschooler. His mother had him re-evaluated, and the doctor said that not only did Jake no longer meet criteria for autism, he had none of the residual behaviours that sometimes persist. The doctor said he was a rare case of "full recovery."
When Jake started kindergarten, his parents told the teachers about his autism history so they could keep an eye out for any lingering difficulties. But soon they stopped worrying—Jake did fine. By the time he reached middle school, no one there guessed he once had autism, says Exkorn, who in 2005 published The Autism Sourcebook, a resource guide for professionals and parents of children newly diagnosed with autism. This month Jake starts college at the University of Michigan. He says he doesn't remember much about having autism—though he does remember the M&Ms." (Slate Magazine, 09 September 2015)