What Does Recovery Look Like?
Despite the fact that autism is generally seen as a lifelong disability, idea of “recovery” is prominent in the scientific literature. Pioneering UCLA psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas insisted that with intense and early treatment, children could “recover” from autism. But his notion of recovery was fairly limited: succeeding in school without any special support, testing in the normal range on a few behavioral assessments. There’s no doubt that some individuals make extraordinary progress with intensive treatment. I met Sean at Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, California. Now 14, he was diagnosed with autism as a toddler. Back then, his mother told me, “he was completely silent, he didn’t respond to his name,” and he threw frequent tantrums. Today, after nine years of ABA therapy, his symptoms are so subtle that you can easily overlook them. Fantastic eye contact, fluent speech, empathy and awareness of other points of view. Is he recovered? He’d probably meet Lovaas’ criteria for recovery. He’s a good student and no longer has any special support at school. But, as this video shows, Sean is still working very hard on the fine points of conversation with his Autism Partnership teacher. Another elusive goal for him is being more comfortable “hanging out with friends.”