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Autism Onset Patterns Linked to Developmental Outcomes

Last Updated: May 13, 2010.

In children under age 3, the onset of autism has three distinct patterns -- regression, plateau, and no loss or plateau -- which substantially affect developmental, diagnostic and educational outcomes, according to a study published April 2 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

THURSDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- In children under age 3, the onset of autism has three distinct patterns -- regression, plateau, and no loss or plateau -- which substantially affect developmental, diagnostic and educational outcomes, according to a study published April 2 in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Luther G. Kalb, of the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, and colleagues collected cross-sectional data from parents of 2,720 children ages 3 to 17 with an autism spectrum disorder. They used a parent questionnaire to assess developmental characteristics and the Social Responsiveness Scale and Social Communication Questionnaire to measure current autism symptoms.

The researchers found that 44 percent of the children experienced regression, a loss of previously acquired social, communication or cognitive skills before 36 months; 17 percent experienced plateau, a display of only mild developmental delays until a developmental halt that restricted further skills advances; and 39 percent experienced early warning signs without regression or plateau. They found that those with regression had less delayed early development than the other groups, followed by a significant increase in autism symptom severity marked by the greatest risk of not attaining conversational speech, and that they were more likely to need increased educational supports. These findings were particularly robust for the children whose parents reported the regression as severe.

"Taken together, these findings provide strong evidence for an association between autistic regression and generally poorer outcomes," the authors write. "Our data also suggests that children with a developmental plateau are at an increased risk, compared to those without a loss or plateau, for requiring additional educational supports. Each of these findings has important implications to the design and priority of clinical intervention."

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