Alex Brandon/AP
Leo Lytel, 9, poses for a photograph at
his home in Washington.

New Research Suggests Recovery From Autism Is Possible

May 11, 2009 05:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A University of Connecticut researcher says intensive behavioral therapy can help a small percentage of kids with autism recover.

Recovery Not Likely, But a Possibility

Deborah Fein, who presented a study at a conference over the weekend, said approximately 10 percent of children who have autism can be “cured” with intensive behavioral therapy. The majority of children with autism won't recover, said the University of Connecticut psychology professor, but families should know it's a possibility.

Another researcher, Geraldine Dawson of Autism Speaks, told the AP that Fein's work is the first to thoroughly document recovery among autistic children.

Though Dawson told the Daily Telegraph that the research is in the early stages.

The National Institute of Mental Health is paying for the research, which invovles children ages 9 to 18.

One of the children in Fein's study is Leo Lytel, a third-grader from Washington, D.C. He went from displaying classic autism symptoms, such as refusing to make eye contact, to being “an articulate, social” child that teachers describe as “a leader,” his mother Jayne Lytel said.

Background: Gaining new insight into autistic behaviors

Past studies have shown that autistic individuals focus on mouths instead of eyes when looking at faces. A new study from Yale University based on attention behaviors in 2-year-olds watching animated videos proposes that “lip-sync,” or the fixed pairing of lip movement and the sounds of speech, may be the cause of this atypical behavior.

Dr. Ami Klin led the study at the Yale Child Study Center. The research was partially funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and was published in the journal Nature on March 29.

Klin and Dr. Warren Jones compared the eye movements of “typically-developing” toddlers, toddlers on the autism spectrum and developmentally delayed toddlers.

As Jones explained, “audio-visual synchrony,” or pairing of motion and sound, is responsible for 90 percent of the patterns in the attention of autistic children. This pattern is not found in other children.

Klin, Jones and their colleagues believe the results may explain why people with autism look at people’s mouths rather than their eyes, as mouths have a greater degree of audio-visual synchrony during speech than any other part of the face.

Their future research will involve studying infants with older siblings who are on the autism spectrum. Since autism is genetically heritable, at least in part, such infants have a greater potential for the disorder. 

Klin told WebMD via e-mail, “Our hope is to detect vulnerabilities for autism as early as possible, so as to intervene with the hope to capitalize on the babies’ brain malleability.”

Related Topics: Other autism treatments

In March, a newly published study suggested that autistic children who spent time in hyperbaric chambers could improve their symptoms. Hyperbaric chambers are enclosed tubes where atmoshperic pressure and oxygen content can be increased. Chambers have also shown promise for children who have fetal alcohol syndrome or cerebral palsy. The study's lead author, Dan Rossignol, who used the chambers for his two autistic sons, told the BBC, "We’re certainly not talking about a cure, we’re talking about improvements in behaviour, improving certain functions and quality of life."

Some parents have also said their autistic children have benefitted from chelation, a therapy that removes heavy metals from the body. Jenny McCarthy, a former television show host and actress, has said her son was cured of autism with it. Many researchers, though, have expressed skepticism.

Reference: Autism


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines