Here Dr. Jonathan Tarbox, PhD, BCBA-D, who is also the Program Director of the Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program at the University of Southern California, as well as the Director of Research at FirstSteps for Kids answers the popular question, "Can my child still recover from autism?"

Watch the video to find out what he thinks, or read the full transcript below.


I have a question about recovery with my son. He will be five in June and he's doing good. He's in an autism school five days a week for five and a half hours each day. We used to do an ABA program at home too, but our insurance sent us a letter saying that they made a mistake and that they are self-funded. My husband is the only one working so we can't afford to pay ABA out-of-pocket.

My son is talking in five-to-six word sentences and sometimes they are as long as eight words. He's fully potty trained and is social with us here at home. Now my concern is him being social with other people and kids his age, it's almost non-existent unless he is prompted by me or one of the therapists at his school. They include him with the neuro-typical class like three times a day to practice his social skills with kids his age that are not on the spectrum, but otherwise he will ignore them.

When we go to stores and the cashier says "Hi" to him, I have to prompt him to say "hi" back. He's a very smart boy and is starting to read, loves his letters and is very considerate. He's high functioning. He has a language delay in the making conversation aspect, but he's come a really long way. Two years ago, he barely had words. When we were doing the ABA at home plus the school I was really, really excited and thought recovery would happen. But I know how you guys say 40 hours is the key at his age for a kid to maybe recover. Do you think that he can still have a chance at that even though he's not getting the full hours?"

I do want to let everybody know that if you have a long question, sometimes it's frustrating on the format on the live feature, and you can always email me your question. It's [email protected]. Sometimes that's easier for you guys. And I do get them and I do print them out and bring them in to ask them. So, it's not instantaneous, but within, you know, a very short amount of time I get to it.

So Dr. Tarbox-- heartbreaking. For somebody to get ABA for a period of time and then have it taken away from them. Absolutely heartbreaking. I will say to you that you are somebody who has the potential later on when your kitchen isn't on fire. There have been people who have successfully sued to be able to get their services back.

It might be something that you consider, but it's a whole other fight.

That'll take over your life in itself.

Yep, absolutely. So, she is with a five year old, who was making good progress. He does have a program at school, he's got a lot of things going in his plus column, but she's wanting to hope for recovery.

Right. So, you know, honestly, and I'm going to say the same thing to your viewer, that I say to every other family who hears about recovery.

Pretty much every mom looks me in the eye and says the same thing, which is, "Does my have my kid have a chance at recovery?"

And you know, it makes you choke up literally every time, right? You know, the truth is the science isn't there yet. So we literally cannot predict.

And of course, I cannot predict without even knowing your child.

But even if I did know your child and I had worked with them for a year, you still can't predict to tell the truth.

You know, some clinicians have a gut feeling and it turns out that their gut is right a lot more than other clinicians. But the truth is we really don't know yet. We've had kids come through the door late in the game, as old as five, pretty severely delayed and still get full recovery.

We've had kids come through the door early, two years old, really high functioning and still have significant needs the rest of their lives. So the full, you know, both sides of the spectrum.

We should note that most of those kids make progress, it's not that they didn't make progress, it's just that they just didn't make it to the full recovery.

Yes, they're just not indistinguishable from their peers by the time they're done, they still have significant needs and they still need support for the rest of their lives to some degree.

So there's no way to predict. We have no way of knowing. I guess a general question for a five year old who's had a year of ABA, if they continue to get intensive ABA for another couple of years, is it possible at all for someone of that description to recover? I would say yeah, probably. How likely it is, like what percentage or chance, I have no clue whatsoever. That's just the honest truth. And I wish that I had something more clear, especially being a scientist. We want data, we want to know hard numbers. And the honest truth is we don't know anything more concrete than that.

Now, with that being said, your child, if he got another year or two of intensive ABA, would that push his development even further and supercharge his learning and development? Absolutely. So if you can get that, it's worth fighting for still. Absolutely.

You can contact or just find out more information about CARD (The Center for Autism and Related Disorders) and Autism Live here: 

Lyndsy Moffatt is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Coach who specializes in helping parents of children and adults with autism & ADHD.