Fighting Autism: A Mother's Story

PHOTO At the tender age of 18 months, Roman Scott was diagnosed with a form of autism.Courtesy The Scott Family
At the tender age of 18 months, Roman Scott was diagnosed with a form of autism. By age 4, with his mother's Elizabeth's help, he no longer even tested on the autism spectrum.

At the age of 18 months, Roman Scott was diagnosed with a form of autism. By age 4, he no longer tested on the autism spectrum.

Although there is no cure for autism, and references in medical literature to "overcoming" autism symptoms are few and far between, Roman's mom, Elizabeth Scott, and his pediatrician, Dr. Jacquelynn Longshaw, believed that through much patience and training, Roman could overcome the odds.

VIDEO: Autistic boy improves after moms intensive hands-on therapy.Play

"The whole thing was difficult because I was so afraid," Scott said today on "Good Morning America." "I was terrified of losing my son."

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Elizabeth Scott first noticed the troubling signs when Roman was only a few months old.

"I could literally start seeing the symptoms overtaking him, and he was beginning to slip away right before my eyes" recalls Scott.

The symptoms progressed Scott says, and pretty soon seemed to affect just about every interaction.

"He couldn't eat without constantly choking on food. He began fixating or staring at ceiling fans, flags and lights. He didn't want to be touched ... and he was afraid to touch a lot of normal objects, everyday objects like bubbles, Play-Doh, even rain," Scott remembered.

It didn't take long before these symptoms had a name: pervasive developmental disorder, a type of autism that delays development and socialization.

"I knew, when they said the "A" word, we were in so much trouble. So, you know, my heart was broken. I was just devastated," said Scott.

While she may have been devastated on the inside, Scott did not want to retreat in fear or wait and see. She promptly quit her teaching job to spend her days with Roman, full-time, for three years to try to lure him away from his symptoms and teach him new thought patterns and skills.

Drills Teach Roman Slowly

Using a program of nearly 80 different drills, techniques the therapist had taught her, and a lot of motherly patience and creativity, Roman slowly started to show signs of improvement.

"Roman was afraid to take a shower or stand in the rain. To overcome that, I would take handfuls of water, and I would sprinkle it over his head while he was in the bathtub. And then, I progressed to a cup of water. In about two months, he could tolerate the water coming down on his face," Scott said.

From there Roman continued to show signs of improvement.

"After about four months, I started seeing a couple of the symptoms go away. I'm like, wow, he's not ... he's not rolling his hands anymore," Scott recalled of her awe at the symptoms disappearing.

And it wasn't just Elizabeth Scott who was amazed. Longshaw, Romans doctor, said she was not entirely sure how or what changed inside Roman but said that "had [Elizabeth Scott] not done what she did then ... he would not be at the point where he is today."

Scott has co-written a book about her experience with Roman and the techniques she used, called Autism Recovery Manual of Skills and Drills.

"When he fixated on objects, I would replace the negative behaviors with something meaningful," Scott said. "I would redirect anything negative to something positive."

Roman Scott, now 8, said on "GMA" that he enjoyed playing basketball and soccer, and "to take apart computers and put them back together again."

ABC News senior health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said Roman's journey "is just a wonderful story."

When dealing with autism, "you're talking about a wide spectrum," he said. "There's more and more literature that says early diagnosis and early intervention and treatment can lead to improvements."

He also cautioned, however, that "all children will not respond the same way." His advice for parents was to look for signs of autism early. Those signs include failure to make eye contact, lack of vocabulary and repetitive movements.

"Those are signs that you should bring to your doctor," he said.

Other Experts Weigh In

Autism researchers said that for a precious minority of autistic children, such intensive therapy can lead to improvement. Dr. Lisa Shulman, developmental pediatrician and autism researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., said her research suggested that only about 25 percent of autistic kids could be helped by such interventions.

In other words, most parents who make the same sacrifice as Scott are not likely to reap similar benefits.

"We would concur that for a minority subgroup of children with a particular profile ... intensive services initiated as early as possible can make a diagnostic difference," she said.

Dr. Isabelle Rapin, a child neurologist at Albert Einstein who has researched and edited two books on autism, added that even for those kids who improve, some evidence of autism would likely remain.

"Behavioral intervention will help virtually any child improve somewhat, but many will not achieve a level of improvement that will enable them to function in the real world without assistance," Rapin said. "Many 'cured' children are markedly improved and can function with minimal assistance, but they still have symptoms that place them in the gray zone between normal and mild impairment."

Others still hesitate to attribute Roman's improvement to this intensive therapy without more evidence.

"While it is great news that this child is doing so well, this is still an anecdote and the proof that the intervention was the main determinant of the outcome is limited," said Dr. Max Wiznitzer of Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland.

So there may be debates among the medical community as to if overcoming autism is possible, and there is certainly a widespread consensus that there is no such thing as a "cure," but to one vibrant young 8-year old and his mother, it certainly does feel like it.

"This must be what it's like for an Olympic athlete to win gold. This is the gold for my child's life," said Scott.