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Am J Intellect Dev Disabil. 2012 Mar;117(2):156-66. doi: 10.1352/1944-7558-117.2.156.

Do autistic symptoms persist across time? Evidence of substantial change in symptomatology over a 3-year period in cognitively able children with autism.

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Centre for Research in Autism and Education, London, United Kingdom; and University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.


This study investigated the extent and nature of changes in symptomatology in cognitively able children with autism over a 3-year period. Thirty-seven children diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition involved in an earlier study (M age  =  5 years, 7 months) were followed and reassessed 3 years later (M age  =  8 years, 4 months). Scores on the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ; M. Rutter, A. Bailey, & C. Lord, 2003 ) decreased significantly over time in all symptom domains but especially in the social domain, and correlational findings suggested the presence of 2 distinct developmental trajectories-social communication and repetitive behaviors-that interact across time. Furthermore, 7 children (19% of sample) made substantial changes to the extent that they failed to meet criteria on diagnostic instruments (the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule-Generic [ADOS-G; C. Lord, M. Rutter, P. C. DiLavore, & S. Risi, 1999 ] and the SCQ) 3 years later. Children showing diagnostic discontinuity were distinguishable from those who fulfilled ADOS-G criteria only in terms of the age at which they began receiving intervention. The presence of a significant proportion of children showing considerable progress over the 3-year period challenges assumptions of diagnostic continuity and highlights the potential long-term benefits of early intervention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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