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Breaking Through the "Window of Opportunity": Study Notes That Symptoms of Autism Improve with Age

By September 27, 2007

According to a new study, published in the September Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers have found that symptoms can improve with age. This is apparently groundbreaking news - though those of us with loved ones on the autism spectrum kinda knew it all along.

What is significant about this research is not the basic finding, but rather the "discovery" that the "window of opportunity" does NOT slam shut in early childhood. This is a huge and heartening message for parents who are receiving later diagnoses along with the dire warning that early intervention provides the only viable hope for their children. Indeed, as I mentioned in an article written months ago, early intervention is but one way to make a difference in a child's life - and there is no research that suggests that later intervention is LESS helpful.

Here are the details on the research report, According to an article on the Newswise website:

"On average, people are getting better," says Paul T. Shattuck, an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis who worked on the study as a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center and is the first author of the paper....

The new paper reports on how behavior in 241 adolescents and adults, initially aged 10 to 52 years, changed over a five-year period. Although symptoms for many in the study remained stable, a significant proportion exhibited improvements in symptoms and maladaptive behaviors....

Like most people, individuals with developmental disabilities such as autism continue to grow and change over time, Shattuck explains: "Their development is not frozen in time and forever the same. That's just not the case."

...Why some in the sample improved is being investigated as part of the ongoing study, according to Shattuck.

"Our study demonstrates that significant changes are occurring," he explains. "But in terms of the underlying biological mechanisms, we don't yet know what's going on."

Does this new finding make you feel more hopeful about future prospects for your child with autism (or for yourself if you've received an autism diagnosis as an adult)? Or does it just confirm what you already know?
September 28, 2007 at 5:41 pm
(1) Harold L Doherty says:

I an not aware of anyone who has seriously stated that the window of opportunity slams shut at 5 or 6. That is the window for optimum or maximum benefit from ABA intervention.

In Canada there has been litigation and considerable advocacy in an attempt to continue services after the age 5-6 period. I myself filed a Human Rights Complaint here in New Brunswick because funded intervention for autism was cut off at age 5.

Those who have held to an absolute view of non-development past age 5 or 6 have tended to be governments rationalizing the denial of services.

October 3, 2007 at 2:41 pm
(2) Bonnie says:

I am a bit confused by this article. Are they saying that these kids get better on their own or do they mean they aren’t too to try, say the GF/CF diet? If it’s getting better on their own the older they get, I agree somewhat, at least in our case. Although we have done mild biomedical interventions with our son who is 9, I notice each year that his verbal skills increase, his overall demeanor, his interests to some extent change, he’s not as stimmy anymore, and some other things that occur to me when I watch old videos. Anyway, if this is what the article is implying, then I can support it’s view, and i think this can give hope to a lot of people who dont’ see a light at the end of the tunnel.

October 9, 2007 at 8:16 pm
(3) chrtistinna says:

I already knew but wished someone could have told me earlier!

October 21, 2007 at 5:57 pm
(4) Tamara says:

Since my daughter (now 21 years old) didn’t get any specific help for autism until she was 10 years old some people might thing that her “window of opportunity” was not only closed, but nailed shut! Not so. She is a different person than she was at that age, much improved.

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