The majority of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could benefit greatly from long-term intervention, a doctoral thesis examining signs of difficulties that autistic children face at school age reported.
For the thesis, Martina Barnevik Olsson at Sahlgrenska Academy tracked 208 children who were diagnosed with autism between the ages of two and 4.5. Olsson monitored the children's symptoms for eight years. All of the children had received early intervention at a facility in Stockholm.
By the time the children turned 9 to 13 years old, Olsson found that the nine out of 10 of them dealt with major problems that were related to autism. Olsson reported that the majority of these children still had diagnostic symptoms on top of other neurodevelopmental issues, such as disruptive behavior, speech and language complications, attention span problems and regulatory difficulties.
Olsson noted that many children who appeared to have grown out of their autism diagnoses still had these neurodevelopmental problems, which suggested that the children were not receiving enough care or support as they grew up.
Olsson had interviewed the parents as well and found that many of them felt that their children did not get enough support in the school setting.
"Most of the parents felt that the children had insufficient support in school," Olsson said.
In another part of her research, Olsson had assessed regulatory problems with eating, sleeping and crying in the first two years of a child's life to see if these problems can be used to predict whether or not the child will have developmental issues later on in life regardless of an autism diagnosis. The data came from the Child Healthcare Centers (BVC).
Olsson found that 44 percent of the parents from the study group that involved autistic children had received help at least twice for their children's regulatory problems. In the control group, this rate was at 16 percent.
"Even if early regulatory problems do not necessarily indicate autism, the results show the importance of noting these problems at the BVC in order to support the families and follow the children's development, as such problems can be an indicator of later developmental deviations," she said.
Olsson argued that monitoring autistic children's development and providing intervention whenever necessary can potentially help children manage their symptoms years after a diagnosis. Olsson added that intervention and care should continue even when autistic children no longer have diagnostic symptoms since many of them continue to deal with developmental problems.
"Almost all children with a preschool diagnosis of asd had remaining neurodevelopmental problems eight years later," Olssom wrote. "The results underscore the need for follow-up assessments, educational adaptations and longer-term parental support targeted to this patient group."
OIsson's thesis was submitted to the University of Gothenburg.