Friday, 24 February 2012
Can children Grow out of Autism?
Did you read the Daily Mail story 'Can some children simply 'grow out of autism?' http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2103940/Autism-Can-children-simply-grow-One-mother-tells-sons-life-transformed.html I was irritated and perplexed by it, not least because it wasn't made clear whether Josh, the nine-year old in the story, who was diagnosed at three, still had a diagnosis of autism!
I was interested to see a piece on the NHS Choices website describing the Mail's claim as 'misleading' and offering a 'false impression to the parents of children with autism:' http://www.nhs.uk/news/2012/02February/Pages/children-grow-out-of-autism-claim.aspx
I suspect most cases of a child 'growing out' of autism are in fact initial misdiagnosis, perhaps made too early before the picture becomes clearer. Other overlapping conditions, such as developmental delay, can cause similar symptoms and diagnostic overshadowing. I'm not convinced by the early interventions argument. Although early interventions can improve problems associated with autism they can't cure it. In our experience identifying signs of autism can be open to interpretation and its diagnostic criteria has widened over the years. Is it being diagnosed too readily these days?
Far from growing out of autism, Chrissy appeared to grow into it! Autism was first mentioned by her speech therapist when she was four, who said that although she had very few words that she used 'parrot-fashion' like someone with autism, she used imagination when playing with a doll. (I think she brushed the doll's hair or spoke to it.) Another doctor described Chrissy as 'unautistic' because she was social and affectionate - the very opposite of the withdrawn and isolated child in a world of her own that used to be considered 'classic' autism. In fact, a paediatrician told us: 'Your daughter can't be autistic because autistic children don't speak.'
As I've explained here before, years later when Chrissy was 22, her psychologist diagnosed her with a form of autism classified as 'active but odd,' a diagnosis confirmed by Lorna Wing, MD, Psychiatric Consultant at the National Autistic Society, who checked the psychologist's extensive report. In 2010, a consultant psychiatrist from The Maudsley Hopsital's Autism Assessment Clinic confirmed the presence of autism from an early age after reviewing old videos of Chrissy. He noted her odd postures and facial expressions, and how she flapped her hands in front of her face even at six.
Looking back, Chrissy's autistic traits have waxed and waned over the years. When she was little she often appeared to ignore us when we spoke to her, but we put it down to her severe glue ear, then everything was attributed to her developmental delay. She's always had obsessive/compulsive traits - lots of verbal repetition and switching lights on and off - but taken alone they didn't signify an autism spectrum disorder. Her severe outbursts weren't triggered by changes in routine or anything else that seemed particularly autistic, but her problems with small daily transitions appeared to get worse as she grew older.
Around the time the photo on here was taken, she was going through a phase of turning everything round the wrong way and upside down in her bedroom but that's long since passed. Her over-friendliness has confused the picture in the past but it's now on the wide spectrum of socially inappropriate behaviour that people with autism display. I remember watching Rain Man for the first time back in the eighties when it first came out. I enjoyed the film then but didn't associate Raymond's problems with Chrissy's but each time I've seen it since the parallels are so obvious I keep gasping: 'Oh my God - that's Chrissy!'
These days, Chrissy has frequent spells of very autistic jumping up and down, flapping and screeching but not all the time thank God! Maybe some of these behaviours were always there but less noticeable in a small person but I do think Chrissy is less able to adapt to her environment than when she was little. She was more flexible and reslient then. Maybe she had to be because we didn't know what was wrong and expected her to fit in with the rest of the family. As she grew bigger the tables slowly turned and she either grew into autism or we were no longer able to resist its awesome power!
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