Autism Screening – The Latest

With autism diagnosis rates increasing by large margins throughout the US, as well as internationally, researchers are focused on finding ways to screen for symptoms of autism at earlier ages, enabling children to receive the early intervention treatments that they need.

A new study, published today, focuses on studying infants as young as six months old. These children received various forms of therapy, administered by their parents, up to the age of four. By the time these children reached that age, none of them required any additional form of autism therapies or treatments.

Researchers at the University of California Davis MIND Institute focused on infants between the ages of 6 and 15 months, and although they were too young to receive an autism diagnosis, they were labeled at high risk due to severity of specific symptoms. Sally Rogers, professor of psychiatry at US Davis and co-author of the study, states, “We know that autism affects children very differently from one child to another, and we know that no one intervention will affect all children the same.” She continues, “but we do believe, and the infant literature tells us, that learning happens the most rapidlyearly in life, giving less time for the behaviors associated with autism to develop.”

Previous studies focused on children at slightly older stages, primarily between the ages of 18 to 30 months old. These children received 20 hours a week of social and behavioral therapies with clinicians, along with an additional 5 hours of therapy with their parents. The group that received the therapy was observed to have greater improvements in their behavior and capabilities than that of the control group. This study provided strong evidence that intensive early intervention can significantly improve behavior in children on the autism spectrum.

The new study, administered to children much younger, was actually of a low-intensity, and of a low-cost. The focus of the study was to get parents into the habit of interacting with their child from a new perspective.  For example, if babies had difficulties with repetitive hand behaviors, the parents were taught to give their child a toy whenever they began the repetitive motion, to occupy that hand with a stimulating activity. In addition, therapists taught parents to find every opportunity to present themselves directly in their babies’ field of vision, particularly if those babies never sought eye contact.

The study showed that most children were doing very well by the time they reached the age of two, with many no longer qualifying for additional behavioral therapy. Furthermore, many were able to go on to attend a standard preschool. The outcome of this study shows that infant screening is incredibly beneficial, as it can allow for more effective and less intensive interventions.

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