Recovery from Autism is Possible


“Although autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are generally considered lifelong disabilities” a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers studied 34 individuals who seemed to have recovered fully from diagnoses of autism, comparing them to 44 individuals diagnosed as high-functioning autistic and 34 individuals with “typical development”. They found no differences in ratings of autism symptoms between the recovered and typical individuals. Results were published yesterday in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Abstract →

Fein, D., Barton, M., et al; Optimal Outcome in Individuals with a History of Autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. February 2013 54(2) 195-205

Of further interest:
Some With Autism Diagnosis Can Overcome Symptoms, Study Finds (New York Times)

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. As long as they’re diagnosing kids with autism who are just socially awkward this would always be a safe bet. There was a time when autism wasn’t too much different from down syndrome. The kids were totally impaired, often unable to speak or dress themselves. Now if little johnny just doesn’t want to play with the other kids, he has autism.

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    • To some degree I agree with you, Autism is massively overdiagnosed. And one good thing I can say about the upcoming DSM 5 is that the daignosis of Autism will be being reined in slightly. It is expected that only 25% of those diagnosed with Aspergers will meet the new diagnosis. But of course they have social communication disorder instead to take it over!!!

      Thousands of children have been very poorly diagnosed, for little to no reason.

      BUT I was a profoundly Autistic child, when daignosed some 35 years ago at the age of 3. I did not make any real sounds until I was 8, and have only in the last 10 years been able to communicate at a normal level. I did not read at all until I was 15. I now have university degrees. I still have problems that could easily be defined as Autism. But I have recovered to a huge level. I know of many many people like me. The problem is not what these people can achieve, but the way we respond to them as children. The behavioural treatments force children further inside, rather than assisting them. And for many children they are akin to child abuse, just legalised as they are labelled as autistic, much in the same way as mass drugging is legalised if you are labelled as schizophrenic.

      I don’t believe that one can ‘cure’ autism. I do believe there are parts of me that will always be severly autistic. But I have made a huge recovery and thousands of others have also. The current view of it though and the push for behavioural treatments does nothing to help those people. This does not take away from the fact that Autism, and especially Asperger’s is the latest fad diagnosis for anything that is not perfectly normal. Since no child is normal, that is bascially everyone!!!

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  2. JeffreyC, as one who worked in special education, I agree that autism was way overdiagnosed.

    But I feel there is more to this study which I feel this article gives a much better analysis of. It seems the ones who were identified as recovered had mild symptoms and a high IQ.

    And even though 7 of the 34 participants had continous impairments in non verbal interaction, the researchers decided it was not related to autism even though that symptom is classic of the condition.

    Interestingly, when autistic adults who appeared normal were aske if they felt they had outgrown autism, their answer was no.

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  3. It’s hard to credit a diagnosis that is so vague in its criteria. Autism is probably one of the few semi-legitimate DSM diagnoses, but it’s still impossible to say who “has it” vs. who does not, let alone predict the long-term outcome. It is one more example of shoddy science leading to dire, self-serving predictions of lifetime disability that aren’t necessarily true at all.

    —- Steve

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  4. This seems to be more about an extended remission, not a cure.

    I was an obviously, but undiagnosed autistic child. I got by as an adult. I steadfastly refused to reveal the core issues to any therapist and remained undiagnosed until 59 years old. I might have been one of these so-called recovered people, but with age I cannot help the re-emergence of autistic traits. Any time of “recovery” was better described as coping and denial.

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    • This sentence makes absolutely no sense to me.

      I was an obviously, but undiagnosed autistic child.

      Children are diagnosed as autistic because they are obvious. Obviously, not so in your case. I would question seriously any autism diagnosis made at age 59, and so I would question this diagnosis that you have received.

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