Which Autistic Children Will Improve?

Autism social and language skills may improve if children at risk are identified

(RxWiki News) Children with autism may develop their social and language skills at very different rates. Most important for parents is identifying children who are developing slowly, so they can receive extra attention.

A recent study discovered that the variation in how quickly social and language skills developed in autistic children was influenced by socioeconomic factors and intellectual disability.

Most children had improved social and language skills over time, and a smaller group of children – about 10 percent of the children in this study - were termed bloomers because they showed very rapid gains in social and language skills.

"Ask your child’s doctor about social and language skill programs."

Christina Fountain, PhD, of the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences at Columbia University in New York, and her colleagues categorized the social and language development of children with autism based on the child’s economic status, the mother’s education level and how severe the child’s symptoms were at first diagnosis.

In California, 6,938 children completed a questionnaire at least three different times between the ages of 3 and 14.

Children were categorized based on the rate of change in their skills over the years – which researchers call a “trajectory.” 

A low functioning trajectory meant that a child showed slow gains in social and language skills. A high functioning trajectory meant that a child showed big gains in social and language skills.

The bloomers were about two times less likely than the low trajectory children to have intellectual disability at diagnosis.  In other words, children with thinking and learning difficulties were less likely to make rapid gains in social and language skills.

Bloomers and children in the high trajectory category were about two times less likely to be a minority race and about twice as likely to have a mother with a college degree.

The researchers concluded that children with severe learning difficulties are at risk for slower development in social and language skills.

Children of mothers who are a minority and who are less educated may also have less access to good treatments, which may add to the risk of slow developmental gains.

The authors said in their recent report, “More work is needed to discover whether these longitudinal patterns will help us not only to understand the diversity of autism but also to better target interventions and improve treatment.”

This study was published in the June issue of Pediatrics. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 28, 2012