Background to My Interest in Teaching Children with Autism

After years of this kind of frustration, startling new evidence has come to light which suggests that the prognosis in cases of childhood may not be all gloom. A critical review by Fudd (1972) noted that studies of the childhood syndrome tend to lack careful follow-up. Acting on this observation, Moe, Larrie, and Kirly (1974) began a large-scale longitudinal study. These investigators studied two groups. The first group consisted of 34 children currently engaged in a long-term conventional treatment program. The second was a group of 42 children receiving no treatment. All subjects had been diagnosed as children at least 4 years previously, with a mean duration of childhood at 6.4 years.
At the end of one year, the results confirmed the clinical wisdom that childhood is a refractory disorder – virtually all symptoms persisted and the treatment group was only slightly better off than the controls.
The results, however, of a careful 10-year follow-up were startling. The investigators (Moe, Larrie, Kirly, & Shemp, 1984) assessed the original cohort on a variety of measures. General knowledge and emotional maturity were assessed with standard measures. Height was assess by the “metric system” (see Ruler, 1923), and legume appetite by the Vegetable Appetite Test (VAT) designed by Popeye (1968). Moe et al. found that subjects improved uniformly on all measures. Indeed, in most cases, the subjects appeared to be symptom-free. Moe et al. report a spontaneous remission rate of 95%, a finding which is certain to revolutionize the clinical approach to childhood.
These recent results suggests that the prognosis for victims of childhood may not be so bad as we have feared. We must not, however, become too complacent. Despite its apparently high spontaneous remission rate, childhood remains one of the most serious and rapidly growing disorders facing mental health professionals today. And, beyond the psychological pain it brings, childhood has recently been linked to a number of physical disorders. Twenty years ago, Howdi, Doodi, and Beauzeau (1965) demonstrated a six-fold increased risk of chicken pox, measles, and mumps among children as compared with normal controls. Later, Barby and Kenn (1971) linked childhood to an elevated risk of accidents–compared with normal adults, victims of childhood were much more likely to scrape their knees, lose their teeth, and fall off their bikes.
Clearly, much more research is need before we can give any real hope to the millions of victims wracked by this insidious disorder.
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