Research shows that many children who have been diagnosed with autism may later outgrow the diagnosis. They don’t need special services anymore! They’re cured! Isn’t it wonderful?
Yes, it is wonderful—for those children who are lucky enough to fall into this category. But what about those who don’t? What about the child who simply is autistic, and will be autistic his entire life, and will never fit well into social situations without some basic accommodations for his disability? Will his parents now pressure therapists and teachers to find a “cure” for something that is intrinsic to his makeup?
What about the child who falls right on the line between the autism spectrum and “normal,” and whose parents refuse to get him the treatment he needs because he “might outgrow it” someday? Or, on the flip side, the child who is right there on the border, and who receives intensive services that only frustrate him more, in an effort to get him off of the spectrum?
Having a child with a disability is difficult. There’s no way around that. A child who is and always will be different, who will always need special services, who will always need accommodations, is a difficult burden for a parent to bear.
There is a grieving period whenever a child is diagnosed with a disability, one just as intense as if there were some physical illness or permanent injury that needed to be overcome. Parents will experience grief at the death of the hopes and dreams that they had for their child. There is also a period of denial. So many parents want to believe that the doctors, the therapists, the countless individuals who have worked with their child, are wrong. The idea that a disorder as potentially debilitating as autism can be outgrown may create further problems for these parents as they insist that their child become something he or she may not be capable of becoming—especially not at this point in life.
Yes, the idea that autism can be outgrown—the theory that children who once appeared on the spectrum may not need treatments and accommodations their entire lives—is a wonderful opportunity for some, and a great hope for others. Still, therapists and teachers should be very careful before raising false hope for parents—or before forcing a child who has had accommodations his entire life to suddenly learn to function without them.