Autism severity can deviate “substantially” during early childhood, study reveals

The severity of autism among boys and girls can change “substantially” during early childhood, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by the UC David MIND Institute, adds to the growing body of evidence demonstrating how the condition affects different genders and age groups.

While current work suggests that boys are around four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls, this latest study also suggests that girls experience a “greater reduction and less rise” in their autism symptom severity than boys.

The research itself looked at 125 children, 89 of whom were boys and 36 were girls. Each child received community-based autism intervention throughout their childhood.

Using a 10-point severity measure called the ADOS Calibrated Severity Score (CSS), the researchers found that 28.8 per cent of children saw a reduction in symptom severity, 16.8 per cent saw an increase in symptom severity, and 54.4 per cent maintained symptom severity.

Commenting on the study, co-author David Amaral said this study disproves the general sense that the severity of autism at diagnosis lasts a lifetime.

“We found that nearly 30 per cent of young children have less severe autism symptoms at age six than they did at age three. In some cases, children lost their autism diagnoses entirely,” he said.

“It is also true that some children appear to get worse. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to predict who will do well and who will develop more severe autism symptoms and need different interventions.”

The researchers also found a difference in symptom severity change among girls and boys, with girls more likely to exhibit better developmental results than boys in cognition, sociability and practical communication skills.

According to the latest statistics, autism affects around one in every 100 people, meaning there are around 700,000 individuals on the autism spectrum in the UK.

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