Researchers Find A New Way of Treating Autism in Infants
Autism is a developmental disorder that usually causes social impairments. Autism tends to be diagnosed and treated at around the ages of three to four. Since a lot of the treatment options for autism deals with behavioral therapy, researchers believe that if autism could be detected even earlier, toddlers can benefit significantly more from these behavioral modifications. A recent study suggested that the number of placental folds could be indicative of whether or not the infant is considered high risk for the disorder. However, no treatment options for infants have been successful until now. According to a study done by researchers from the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), playing games with infants that involve some sort of reward as positive reinforcement could lessen the severity of autistic symptoms.
The researchers, led by Lynn Koegel, the director of the center, knew that autistic infants tended to dislike interactive games, like peek-a-boo. An infant who is autistic might not laugh and even get upset from the otherwise fun game that adults often play with infants. Based from this fact, the research team used a new and modified way of playing with infants known as Pivotal Response Treatment (PVT), which was developed at UCSB. This particular treatment incorporated positive reinforcement to train the infants to like socializing with others.
"We had them [parents] play with their infants for short periods, and then give them some kind of social reward. Over time, we conditioned the infants to enjoy all the activities that were presented by pairing the less desired activities with the highly desired ones," Koegel stated. "The idea is to get them more interested in people...to focus on their socialization. If they're avoiding people and avoiding interacting, that creates a whole host of other issues. They don't form friendships, and then they don't get the social feedback that comes from interacting with friends."
Koegel stated that all three infants that underwent this treatment that lasted from one to three months ended up reacting to stimuli in the same way as an infant without autism would. However, one of the infants still had difficulty with learning language. The research team plans on using this treatment in a larger experiment. The team has received a grant from the Autism Science Foundation.
The study was published in the journal, Positive Behavioral Interventions.