Diagnosing autism at six months old and using early intervention techniques was shown to significantly reduce the symptoms according to a new study completed at the University of California, Davis MIND Institute. But diagnosing autism before the age of one is not always easy. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism can reliably be diagnosed at two years old but the average age for diagnosis is after four years old.
The new study, although promising, only included seven babies, all who showed early signs of autism. During the study, the researchers coached parents to read cues from their baby and respond by providing more or less interaction. Parents were taught to pay attention to interactions that attracted their baby’s attention and then coached to create “pleasurable social routines to increase their children’s opportunities for learning.”
The treatment program lasted for 12 weeks. According to the researchers, during this time the infants learned to be more attentive to their parent’s voice or face and parents learned to watch for cues from their children on interests. Once parents were taught how to do this, they were encouraged to use the techniques in daily life, increasing the social interaction of the babies.
One of the problems is, because of the difficulty of diagnosing autism at such an early age, there were very few babies in the study. The researchers do provide five areas where autism can be detected in babies:
- Unusual visual fixations - focusing visual attention mostly on objects rather than on people
- Abnormal repetitive behaviors - spending long periods of time repeating an action, such as looking at their hands
- Lack of age-appropriate sound development - typically developing infants make sounds such as “ma ma” or “da da”
- Delayed intentional communication - a lack of effort to make gestures or gain attention of their parents or may not smile at the sight of their parents
- Decreased interest in interaction - showing more interest in objects than in people and difficulty sustaining face to face interactions
By paying attention to the early signs, intervention programs can begin at a much younger age. According to the study, “treating these symptoms early may lessen problems later.” When the researchers followed up with the infants, they found that most had autism symptoms at 9 months old but their autism severity scores decreased at 18 and 36 months of age, when compared to a group of children with symptoms of autism who did not receive the therapy. The children who received interventions at six months old “had less impairment in terms of autism diagnosis, and language and developmental delays.”
While this study was small and preliminary, it does provide hope. Dr. Sally Rogers, author of the study, points out that she is not trying to cure autism but rather hopes to reduce some of the disability associated with it, saying, “People with ASD contribute greatly to our culture.”
Published On: September 09, 2014