A study released last week in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which has been getting a lot attention in the media, has misled the public as to what actually constitutes autism spectrum disorder and its treatment. Its false implications only add fuel to the fire that autism is solely caused by environmental factors, such as vaccines, rather than a condition from birth, and that a cure is possible.
Entitled Optimal Outcome in Individuals with a History of Autism, the study looked at a small group of people who had been properly diagnosed with autism and who now appeared to be functioning normally. This functionality was determined based on a battery of tests conducted by the researchers as well as the parents. Brain images of executive functioning were also taken but not reported on in the study.
It's important to point out that, according to the researchers, the participants had “higher cognitive functioning and somewhat milder initial symptoms.” And even more crucially, many of them underwent intensive intervention in the form of behavioral therapy.
Therefore, what this study points to is that the diagnosis of autism is not lost, or "cured" over time, but rather through intensive support from their families, therapists and teachers, those with autism can learn replacement behaviors to cope with some of their deficits, leading to improvement in some of the symptoms.
In addition, last week a vaccine court awarded millions of dollars to two families, which automatically prompted anti-vaccine activists to further propagate the falsehood that compensation is definitive proof that vaccines cause autism. The problem with this logic, or lack thereof, lies twofold. First, these particular families received compensation because their children experienced immediate, severe encephalopathic reactions to the vaccines, which is a known and rare complication of vaccination. The compensatory illness was definitively not autism. Secondly, science is not determined in the courtroom, therefore conclusions as to what may or may not cause autism should not be made based on judicial decisions.
So while some journalists read this study and decided to publicize it as proof that people recover from autism over time, in reality, the subjects did not recover from autism, but were rather higher functioning to begin with and benefited from behavioral therapy. This begs the question of whether we view autism spectrum disorder as a clinical diagnosis based on behavior and executive functioning, as a neurological condition, or both.
If you enjoy my articles, you can click on "subscribe" at the top of the page and you'll receive notice when new ones are published. You can also follow me on Twitter: @ThePashaB.