We do not outgrow our autism

*Note: for some reason the WordPress app I use is not allowing me to insert any links. So, I have quoted some bits out of the articles etc I wanted to link. If and when this issue resolves, I’ll insert the links to the original pieces. 
Nearly a year ago, I read an interview with Toni Braxton in which she claimed her autistic son now showed “no signs of autism”. In fact, she claimed he was now a “social butterfly”. 

Of course, eyebrows were raised amongst the autistic community, especially when she went on to praise the founders of Autism Speaks and interventions such as ABA for the change. 

A few months later, I came across a study of some autistic children that achieved an “optimal outcome” (OO)of now being indistinguishable from the “typically developing” (TD) children in the study. Except, for this part 

OO were indistinguishable from TD, with the exception of greater extraversion (e.g., increased talkativeness), a potential tendency to be less emotionally stable, and pragmatic language deficits such as getting sidetracked in conversation. Overall, OO individuals are not showing BAP characteristics, but may be subject to other mild ADHD-like characteristics.

So, again these kids were “social butterflies” (increased talkativeness, less emotionally stable, getting sidetracked in conversation) and infact some researchers remarked that they now seemed the “opposite” of autistic. 

And, again, one factor that seemed to set these children apart was the fact that most of them received intensive interventions such as ABA from an early age. 

Also, note the mention of “mild ADHD-like characteristics”. Another study that followed autistic children who “no longer met the criteria for autism” showed:

Two-thirds displayed a language/learning disability, while nearly half were diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or disruptive behavior disorder. About a quarter showed signs of a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, or selective mutism.

So, that’s an “optimal outcome” then, is it? Looks like something else is going on, to me. 

Lots of autistics talk about “masking”. It’s where we are able to “pass” as non-autistic, through various coping methods. But, we are still autistic. We appear to not be autistic, but it is all an act. And often, it is an unconscious one. And, it takes its toll. Years and years of actively suppressing autistic traits leads to exhaustion and break downs. I have yet to meet an autistic who masked for a long time and suffered no ill consequences. 

And so I worry. I worry for these kids who have now lost their diagnosis. Who don’t get the support and community they may need. Who now have the “diagnoses” mentioned in the passage above, which to me is their autism “breaking through” despite their suppression. Or who are “social butterflies”, which in my mind is them “trying too hard”. I worry for Toni Braxton’s son and what negative effects he may encounter in the future. 

And so, I contend that we do not outgrow our autism. We are still autistic. 

We may act less autistic, through the effects of intensive intervention, through masking, through various coping strategies. 

But, at what cost?


    • Wow, your whole post was so true for me too. When I was in my early 20s, I was the embodiment of the overly talkative OO too. But could not keep it up & suffered breakdown aged 23. That’s why I’m scared for those children. What will become of them in the long term. It’s exhausting ‘becoming the mask’ for that long.


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