Children with Autism may be faring better than commonly thought

ASD is a developmental brain disorder that affects about one in 54 kids in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disorder is complex, and varies widely from person to person.

Some children have milder problems with socializing and communicating, for example, while others are profoundly affected — speaking little, if at all, and getting wrapped up in repetitive, obsessive behaviors. Some kids have intellectual disabilities, while others have average or above-average IQs.

Much of the research on ASD has focused on the challenges, with little looking at the positive trajectories kids take over time.

“This is an important perspective,” said Giacomo Vivanti, an associate professor with Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, in Philadelphia.

Vivanti, who was not involved in the study, called the findings “encouraging.”

He agreed that proficiency — whether kids with ASD achieve a particular threshold in their ability to communicate, socialize or regulate their behavior — is only one measure of a “good” outcome.

“Looking at growth in those areas can be equally important,” Vivanti said. And, in fact, he added, families may find progress more important.

For the study, Szatmari’s team followed 272 Canadian children diagnosed with ASD. They were assessed three times between the ages of 2 and 5, and twice more between ages 8 and 10.

The researchers looked at how well the kids were doing in five areas: communication, social skills, day-to-day activities, and “internalizing” and “externalizing” behaviors. Internalizing problems include anxiety, social withdrawal and depression, while externalizing problems include things like rule-breaking or aggression.

By age 10, most kids were doing well — either proficient or growing — on at least one area. Just under 24% were doing well on four areas.

There was a lot of variation: Half of kids, for example, were proficient when it came to externalizing behaviors, while only 20% were proficient in social skills.