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Early Treatment for Autism can be Effective

Update Date: Sep 09, 2014 04:09 PM EDT

Infants as young as six-months can benefit from therapy for autism, a new study reported. The researchers from the University of California, Davis MIND Institute, found that starting therapy once symptoms of autism are noticeable can prevent some developmental delays associated with the developmental disorder.

"These data do not prove this intervention either prevented autism or ... changed the course," said study author Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences reported by Philly. "We were really testing a proof of concept: Could the infants' developmental patterns be changed? Parents are hearing more and more about autism and the early signs for it. We don't have diagnostic tools or validated treatments for this age group. So parents and pediatricians are sort of in limbo on this, which is why we're working so hard on it."

For this study, the research team examined seven infants between the ages of six months and 15 months. Four of the infants had siblings diagnosed with autism, which would increase their risk of having autism as well. However, all seven infants showed signs of the disorder, which were a lack of three behaviors: eye contact, social engagement and intentional communication. Other than these factors, the infants were healthy with normal vision and hearing.

The study taught parents how to reinforce and support their infants' attention to voices and faces. Parents were also educated about different ways to identify and improve their infants' interest in social exchanges. The one-hour training sessions lasted 12 weeks. They were instructed to use the "Infant Start" therapy on their infants during daily feeding, diapering and playtime.

"Within six to eight weeks, parents were carrying out interactions at the same skill level as trained therapists," Rogers said. "It was framed all through play and pleasurable interactions through parents and children."

The researchers found that six out of the seven infants had developed better language and learning skills by the ages of two and three in comparison to four symptomatic infants that never received early therapy. Typically at these ages, autism symptoms will manifest even more.

The team and other experts stressed the importance of conducting more research assessing the potential benefits of early therapy. The study was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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