Neuropsychology Review

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 339-366

First online:

Can Children with Autism Recover? If So, How?

  • Molly HeltAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Connecticut Email author 
  • , Elizabeth KelleyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Queen’s University
  • , Marcel KinsbourneAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, New School
  • , Juhi PandeyAffiliated withCenter for Autism Research, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • , Hilary BoorsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Connecticut
  • , Martha HerbertAffiliated withDepartment of Neurology and TRANSCEND Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • , Deborah FeinAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Connecticut

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Although Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are generally assumed to be lifelong, we review evidence that between 3% and 25% of children reportedly lose their ASD diagnosis and enter the normal range of cognitive, adaptive and social skills. Predictors of recovery include relatively high intelligence, receptive language, verbal and motor imitation, and motor development, but not overall symptom severity. Earlier age of diagnosis and treatment, and a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified are also favorable signs. The presence of seizures, mental retardation and genetic syndromes are unfavorable signs, whereas head growth does not predict outcome. Controlled studies that report the most recovery came about after the use of behavioral techniques. Residual vulnerabilities affect higher-order communication and attention. Tics, depression and phobias are frequent residual co-morbidities after recovery. Possible mechanisms of recovery include: normalizing input by forcing attention outward or enriching the environment; promoting the reinforcement value of social stimuli; preventing interfering behaviors; mass practice of weak skills; reducing stress and stabilizing arousal. Improving nutrition and sleep quality is non-specifically beneficial.


Autism spectrum disorders Language development Recovery Stereotyped motor behavior