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ASPartOfMe
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08 Apr 2021, 5:11 am

Age 6 may represent key turning point in autism

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Autism trait severity decreases from age 3 to 6 in most autistic children, but that progress then stalls for nearly three-quarters of them, according to a new long-term study.

The findings suggest that age 6 — when elementary school usually begins — is a key turning point for autistic children, when families, clinics, schools and communities can provide extra support.

The results jibe with a 2020 study showing that autism traits are not stable in young children with autism. But they run counter to the long-standing idea that these traits don’t typically ease with time.

Georgiades and his colleagues analyzed data from 187 children with autism enrolled in the Pathways in ASD study, a long-term project tracking the development of autistic children. They measured autism trait severity when the children were diagnosed — at 41 months of age, on average — and again at about ages 4, 6 and 10.

The children fell into two groups based on how their traits changed over that period.

About 73 percent of the children showed a slight decrease in trait severity up to age 6, and no further change past that point. The remaining 27 percent showed a more marked decline at first and continued to decrease after that, albeit at a slower rate.

The children in the continuously improving group started out with slightly less severe traits than children in the other group and performed marginally better on tests of cognition, language and daily-living skills.

The work was published in March in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

The reasons for the turning point remain uncertain, other experts note.

“We know that the social environment of school can be a challenge for many young children with autism,” says Tony Charman, professor of clinical child psychology at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. “But from the work presented, which has no school-based data about the cohort, it is hard to draw any definitive conclusions about whether school entry itself — and if so, what factors — are contributing to the change in trajectory.”

Brain development might also help to account for the turning point. It differs between autistic children whose traits wane over time and those whose traits do not, according to a 2020 brain imaging study by Amaral and his colleagues.

About 85 percent of the children in the new study are boys, so it’s unclear whether the turning point also applies to autistic girls, Amaral says. But his team’s previous work suggests that the severity of girls’ traits decreases more over time than that of boys’ traits.

“There is the question of whether or not this decrease in the severity of symptoms we see in girls is real, or whether they are better able to mask or hide their symptoms,” says Einat Waizbard-Bartov‬, a graduate student in Amaral’s lab who was not involved in the new work.


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Mountain Goat
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08 Apr 2021, 5:43 am

It is interesting. There are a lot of external factors going on at that age. I hardly talked in school, especially in the first couple of years, and at play times, I would go and stand on my own in a corner and just watch others playing. I did not want to play. It was more like torture to me due to all the loud noises and busy rushing around.
And then in the second year, I had reading homework to do, and my Mum spent hours with me on it, and I knew the book back to front, but when I had to sit on the teachers lap to read to her, she had both the smell of strong perfume and tobacco smoke, so I could only mumble a few words, and the teacher assumed I had not done my reading homework.
The teacher sent a note back with me saying I had not done my homework, and my Mum sent a note back saying I had, and the teacher took offense and refused to teach me, and put me in a room on my own doing nothing for the whole year.
So it wasn't until the following year that I really began my education (Not to say the first year I was not educated, but it was assumed that I was thick because I hardly talked).
This sort of pattern where when I felt overwealmed with all the changes gave me poor performance, and yet when I settled down I gave good performance repeated itself throughout my education history.
Another element was masking. I started masking from a relatively early age, and in secondary school I manually masked on top of that... But this became my downfall in that I find I have to mask when in groups, but I can only do it for a couple of years at the most (Often a lot less and even as short as a few months), and if the masking broke down I learned to quit the group and move on because that is when I would be bullied as when the breaking down of the masking was picked up upon by others, they thought my whole concept of who I was was a lie, and so they reacted to me as if I had decieved them, so I would be bullied by them.


An example of masking and unmasking. When I had jobs, I would be masking in work. One day someone had to visit me at home who I worked with. At home I did not have to mask as I was relaxed and so I had let my masking drop. I can't do this purposly. It just happens.
He said that I am a completely different person at home to how I was in work. (Puzzled me a bit!)


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