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Parents May Be Able to Decrease Children’s Autism Symptoms with Earlier Therapy

The Short of It

According to a new study, children at high risk for autism may be able to adapt to more typical development if intervention is imposed in infancy. Showing us once again that early intervention is usually best.

The Lowdown

Typically, children with autism begin receiving treatment around 3 years old. The findings of the study suggest that targeting the earliest symptoms, such as lack of attention, reduced social interest or engagement, during the first year of life may lessen the further development of those symptoms later on.

For the study, researchers looked at a group of 54 families with one autistic child. Since 20 percent of siblings of autistic children also develop the disorder, undiagnosed siblings, aged 7 to 10 months, were the focus of the study. Twenty-eight parents were randomly assigned a series of visits from an intervention therapist, and the remaining 26 received no intervention at all.

Those in the intervention group received six home-based visits from a therapist via video feedback to help parents understand and respond to their baby's communication. After five months, infants who received video therapy showed improvements in engagement, attention and social behavior.

The Upshot

Andy Shih, senior vice president of scientific affairs for the non-profit organization Autism Speaks, which partially funded the U.K. study, explains that generally it's believed that children with autism learn differently and have different needs than those of other kids.

"We are thrilled with the outcome here because it points to new avenues to optimize outcomes for children at risk of autism," says Shih. He notes that what the study found is that, possibly, by "enabling parents" in this way, you are "essentially preventing the emergence of more negative symptoms or outcomes down the road."

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