New Autism communication study urges actions to speak louder than words

25 pc  of people diagnosed with Autism or an ASD are non-verbal. 25 years ago, that figure stood at over 50 pc. Ongoing research and communication between pediatrics, educators and parents are showing significant results in aiding those diagnosed with Autism, to find forms in which to communicate.

But researchers from the centre of Research on Autism & Developmental Disorders program at Boston University, and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom say that this is simply not enough. The number of non-verbal Autistics has declined due to the availability of early intervention programmes. These teach toddlers from a very early age how to integrate with their peers, and have a finite understanding of reactions to certain situations.

Whilst emotional and behavioural therapy has been successful in integrating children, and the earlier the better. In a 2006 study, researchers enrolled 58 children with autism in behavioral interventions for 30 hours a week, for five to six weeks. The researchers divided the children into three groups. In one group, the intervention focused on joint attention, for example by repeating back to the child whatever he or she said. In the second, researchers encouraged the children to participate in symbolic play, such as pretending that a doll can drive a car.

The third group of children represented controls, and received standard treatment with no particular emphasis on joint attention or play skills. After the intervention, the children who learned joint attention skills were more likely to engage the attention of their mothers, and those who learned play skills were more likely to engage in unprompted symbolic play. In the new study, researchers followed up on 40 of these 58 children. Overall, regardless of the treatment group, the children who spontaneously engaged in symbolic play at 3 years of age have better language ability five years later, the study found. Toddlers who participated in one of the two interventions also developed a better vocabulary compared with controls. Those who were closer to 3 years of age when they began the intervention improved more than those who were closer to 4, the study found. It was published in the American journal of childhood behaviour and neuroscience. New research published in this month’s journal urges intervention to start even earlier, and to look at the movements and gestures used in non-verbal Autistics, as these 12. Joe McLeary, a lecturer in developmental sciences from Birmingham university said:

 “Parents, pediatricians, psychologists — everyone, we all focus on word production. But factors that are usually thought of as being outside the realm of speech and communication, such as memory or motor problems, may also play a role.  If an infant can’t coordinate movements — such as babbling while rhythmically banging hands on a table or high-chair tray — which is thought to contribute to later language development, then speech may be stymied.”