Recovery or Adaptation: Can one Lose an Autism Diagnosis?

CONTACTUS-lostandfoundOver time a phenomenon has been developing where a small minority of people diagnosed with Autism have lost their diagnosis by adulthood. This controversial phenomenon has of course sparked a cataclysm of hopes and fears including, most prevalently, whether recovery is true or even should be called ‘recovery’ and whether this doesn’t involve changing a person’s inner character or whether this is truly a casting off of past struggles. Of course, the research has only just begun.

One study was done by Psychologist Deborah Fein PhD who studied children who seemed to have left their autism with their old teddy bears. After multiple tests compared to a ‘typically developing’ group, they found that those who had ‘lost their diagnosis’ showed no external signs of ever having autism. Fein wondered if this was an actual loss of the condition or just a matter of learned typical behaviors. But haven’t we all, to a certain extent, learned and imitated behavior patterns of those around us? This got on someone’s last nerve because recently scientists took this debate right down to the neurological center of things. The brain.

The study was led by Dr. Inge-Marie Eigsti and utilized MRI to monitor brain activity during communication and discovered that in some scans the brain activity was so different in those who had shed their diagnosis that it seemed they had found new and unconventional ways to communicate neurologically. This study is of course though, only one, and there are yet many more before we can consider this research to be indisputable fact.

Many commonalities focus on early development, better cognitive abilities and intensive ABA interventions but Dr. Fein alluded that some people may simply have forms of autism that are more responsive to treatment and age.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), a disability rights group run by autistic people, states that “Autism is a natural part of the human condition and not something to recover from or eliminate.” Julia Bascom, deputy executive director of ASAN states that “a suboptimal outcome, is a terrible thing to call a person” and she states that these studies can result in people thinking “that if you can cure autism, if it’s a sickness that people can recover from, then money would be better spent on research into how to prevent autism, rather than on supporting people across their lifespans.”

Currently, we can only wonder if we simply don’t understand enough about how the brain works. Perhaps ‘recovery’ is a very limited term and autism is still a part of the human condition that we don’t know enough about. These studies allude that over time some people originally diagnosed with autism have developed diverse abilities to process communication that could, in turn, allow them more ways to express themselves. Furthermore, could people who adapt with an autism diagnosis perhaps be even more capable of communicating in a healthy manner than individuals who have “typically developed” and does this mean that these individuals have shed their diagnosis or adapted around it? More so, does that in turn, change our knowledge of autism?  Our current lack in conclusion reveals a need for more studies and as always, points back to the need to refocus on the inherent difference of each person’s individuality, as this, throughout history, has always been relevant. 

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