Treating Autism Early Can Curb Developmental Delays

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Treating symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as early as possible — even in infants as young as 6 months old — can thwart the development of the disease or other developmental delays.

Sally J. Rogers, PhD, of the University of California at Davis’ MIND Institute, Sacramento, California, and colleagues created a treatment program, known as Infant Start, that is administered over a six-month period to infants between six months and 15 months old.

As part of the program, parents are coached to concentrate their interactions on supporting their infants’ individualized developmental needs and interests, focusing on creating pleasurable social routines to increase their children’s opportunities for learning, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“Most of the children in the study, six out of seven, caught up in all of their learning skills and their language by the time they were two to three," Rogers said in a statement from UC Davis. "Most children with ASD are barely even getting diagnosed by then."

Children diagnosed with autism typically receive treatment much later than in the study group —  beginning at age 3 to 4 years — even though early symptoms can be found before a baby turns a year old. Infant Start may be so effective given infancy is the time when children first learn social interaction and communication.

Treating Autism Symptoms in Infants Can Curb Developmental Delays
Treating Autism Symptoms in Infants Can Curb Developmental Delays

Treatment at the earliest age when symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) appear – sometimes in infants as young as 6 months old – significantly reduces symptoms so that, by age 3, most who received the therapy had neither ASD nor developmental delay, a UC Davis MIND Institute research study has found.

The treatment, known as Infant Start, was administered over a six-month period to 6- to 15-month-old infants who exhibited marked autism symptoms, such as decreased eye contact, social interest or engagement, repetitive movement patterns and a lack of intentional communication. It was delivered by the people who were most in tune with and spent the most time with the babies: their parents.

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