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Evidence of autism recovery

Posted Aug 14 2009 4:43pm

There’s evidence of autism recovery on a vast scale. That is what we are being told by bloggers covering the latest survey from the National Survey of Children’s Health. The survey showed that some parents are told that their kid is autistic, but the kid doesn’t isn’t currently autistic.

The survey is an intersting thing. They call homes and ask a lot of questions about one of the kids in that home. The questions are not just about autism, but about lots of medical topics. They do this survey every few years.

They added some new questions to the survey this time. In the past they just asked if your kid had autism. Now, they have a two part question:

Has a doctor or other health care provider ever told you that [the child] had Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or other Autism Spectrum Disorder?

followed by

does [the child] currently have autism or ASD

Many of the people who responded “yes, someone told me my kid had an ASD ” later responded “No” to “does you child currently have Autism or an ASD ”.

Bloggers are saying this means that kids “lost their original diagnosis”. Well, we can’t say that. We don’t know what the original diagnosis was. Consider this. We don’t know if a kid had a diagnosis of developmental delay, then someone suggested autism, then later retracted the autism on a formal diagnosis. In that example, the kid still has his “original” diagnosis: developmental delay.

I can feel the eyes rolling as people think, “there he goes, trying to weaken the evidence of recovery with vague statements”.

So, let’s look a data. Let’s dig a little deeper than most. I’m not so good at SAS (the statistical package that is used to read the data), but I think I did OK. Let me know if you catch a mistake and I will correct it.

How many kids had a diagnosis (or just a statement) that they were autistic?

Answer: 1427

How many kids were told they were autistic and later were told they were not?

Answer: 459. About 1/3 of the total.

People stop there and leave it implied that the kids don’t have any diagnoses any more. Bad assumption. Let’s check on that. Let’s look at some of the other diagnoses given in the NCHS.

How many of the 459 now have other diagnoses? Here’s a sample of a few other diagnoses:

219 Developmental delay
27 Speech delay and no developmental delay
8 Brain injury and no developmental delay
65 ADHD and no developmental delay

There may be some crossover between, say speech delay and brain injury or ADHD, but for simplicity I’ll just add them all together to get:

319 of 459 (70%) have one of the diagnoses I listed.

A more simple check: how many of the 459 need supports in school? 97%. All but 14. Yes, parents are being told that their kids “have autism” and the parents are later finding that the kid does not “have autism”. That doesn’t mean that the kids are “recovering”.

Is it possible these kids really qualified for an autism diagnosis at one time? Sure. But, I would assert it is as likely or more that a lot of misdiagnoses were made. That’s if autism diagnoses were ever made. Remember that question?

Has a doctor or other health care provider ever told you that [the child] had Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or other Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Well, if you pediatrician said, “I think this kid may have autism. Go see a psychologist”, may parents would anwer “yes” to the question. The kid wasn’t diagnosed. Pediatricians can’t diagnose. But his parents were told he/she had autism.

Be that as it may, the bottom line: the idea that the NCHS data shows that kids are recovering from autism is weak at best. The data certinainly doesn’t show kids recovering from autism and becoming typical. Most of the “recovered” kids still have a diagnosis of some sort. Almost all are receiving some sort of support in school.

There is more information in the dataset. A couple of blog posts more, at the least.

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