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.
“Autism treatment in the first year of life: A pilot study of Infant Start, a parent-implemented intervention for symptomatic infants,” is co-authored by UC Davis professors of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Sally J. Rogers and Sally Ozonoff. It is published online today in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. [CLICK HERE FOR FULL TEXT]
"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 2 to 3," said Rogers, the study's lead author and the developer of the Infant Start therapy. "Most children with ASD are barely even getting diagnosed by then."
"For the children who are achieving typical developmental rates, we are essentially ameliorating their developmental delays," Rogers said. "We have speeded up their developmental rates and profiles, not for every child in our sample, but for six of the seven."
Rogers credited the parents in the small, pilot study with making the difference.
"It was the parents – not therapists – who did that," she said. "Parents are there every day with their babies. It's the little moments of diapering, feeding, playing on the floor, going for a walk, being on a swing, that are the critical learning moments for babies. Those moments are what parents can capitalize on in a way that nobody else really can."
...The findings may indeed be promising, but the media are hyping the study. The word "miracle" appears in at least one story. There were only seven infants in the treatment group and seven in the comparison group. See the highlighted passage above.
Given the preliminary nature of the findings, the study only suggests that treating these symptoms so early may lessen problems later. Larger, well controlled studies are needed to test the treatment for general use. However, the researchers said that this initial study is significant because of the very young ages of the infants, the number of symptoms and delays they exhibited early in life, the number of comparison groups involved, and because the intervention was low intensity and could be carried out by the parents in everyday routines.