Study leader Deborah Fein of the University of Connecticut in Storrs recruited 34 optimal outcome children ages 8-21 who had received a diagnosis of autism in early life and were now reportedly functioning no differently than their mainstream peers. For comparison, the 34 children were matched by age, sex, and non-verbal IQ with 44 children with high-functioning autism, and 34 typically developing peers.
In this study, early diagnostic reports by clinicians with expertise in autism diagnosis were reviewed by the investigators. As a second step, a diagnostic expert, without knowledge of the child's current status, reviewed reports in which the earlier diagnosis had been deleted.
The results, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggested children in the optimal outcome group had milder social deficits than the high functioning autism group in early childhood, but had other symptoms, related to communication and repetitive behavior, that were as severe as in the latter group.
The investigators evaluated the current status of the children using standard cognitive and observational tests and parent questionnaires. The optimal outcome children were in regular education classrooms with no special education services aimed at autism.
Currently, they showed no signs of problems with language, face recognition, communication and social interaction, Fein said.