Neuropsychology Review

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 339–366 | Cite as

Can Children with Autism Recover? If So, How?

  • Molly HeltEmail author
  • Elizabeth Kelley
  • Marcel Kinsbourne
  • Juhi Pandey
  • Hilary Boorstein
  • Martha Herbert
  • Deborah Fein


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 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Molly Helt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elizabeth Kelley
    • 2
  • Marcel Kinsbourne
    • 3
  • Juhi Pandey
    • 4
  • Hilary Boorstein
    • 1
  • Martha Herbert
    • 5
  • Deborah Fein
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyNew SchoolNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Center for Autism ResearchChildren’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Department of Neurology and TRANSCEND Research ProgramMassachusetts General HospitalCharlestownUSA

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