Children with autism can improve thinking skills over time

A story in U.S. News and World Report last week reported that new research shows “Children with Autism Improve Key Thinking Skills Over Time.” To me, this seemed like, well, a no-brainer. But I guess a lot of research on children with autism has focused on whether communication skills and behavior can change, rather than on cognitive skills. From the article:

Thinking problems typical of autism include difficulties predicting other people’s behavior based on their thoughts and feelings (known as theory of mind), and in problem-solving and planning (executive function).

The article quotes Elizabeth Pellicano, senior lecturer in autism education at the Institute of Education in London. Pellicano tested 37 children with autism (and 31 children who do not have autism) when they were five or six years old. Then, three years later, she tested them again.

While cognitive skills varied from child to child, most of the children with autism improved their abilities in theory of mind and executive function; when older, the children could better appreciate the thoughts and feelings of others and they were better able to plan and regulate their feelings than they were three years earlier, Pellicano reported in the October issue of Child Development.

In the article, Pellicano suggested that parents of children with autism should be encouraged by these findings and use this information to think differently about their child’s potential.


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