New Pilot Study finds that behavioural therapy may help reduce autism symptoms as young as 6 months

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders – released online Tuesday findings from their pilot study into how parents can help significantly reduce symptoms of autism in babies as young as under the age of 1 year. This was achieved by parents changing the way in which they played and interacted with their children.

There were seven babies included in the treatment group, aged between 7 and 15 months of age. All of these infants had shown early signs of autism, such as abnormal repetitive behaviors and a low level of interaction.

The study also included four comparison groups including those infants who were at a higher risk for having an Autism Spectrum Disorder because they had an affected sibling.

Babies in the treatment group had significantly more autism symptoms at 9 months than those in the comparison groups.

In an article in the Huffington Post by  Catherine Pearson, Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with the University of California-Davis MIND Institute and an author on the study said:

 “The goal was to see whether it was feasible to locate children who had autism symptoms younger than 12 months,and then provide intervention through their parents,”

The treatment, based on the  Early Start Denver Model,  focused on increasing the babies’ attention to their parents faces and voices.

Rogers said  that parents of children with ASD have excellent parenting skills, she then goes on to add:

“However, their babies may not respond in a way that tells them they’re on the right track. For a parent getting feedback from a baby that says, ‘I’m not interested,’ the parent may change what he or she is doing.”

Director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health at Montclair State University,  Gerard Costa, called the outcomes for this small group of children and their parents “wonderful” and “very encouraging.”

In a Disability Scoop article by Michelle Diament Paul Wang of Autism Speaks is quoted as calling the effort “pioneering” but urged caution due to the small study size.

“We don’t know for sure whether any of the children in this study or any other kids at this age will go on to have autism.”

Rogers is hoping to conduct a larger, randomized trial to determine with greater accuracy if  Infant Start, which is based upon the  Early Start Denver Model,is effective.

Kristin Hinson who has  three children, two of whom are affected by autism, became involved in the study with her youngest child Noah, who at 6 months was showing signs of early developmental delay. He was one of the seven children who took part in the pilot study.

Kristin told Alice Park of Time that at 18 months Noah blossomed:

 “He started talking, and really socializing. Before, he wasn’t really engaging with others, and all of a sudden it felt like a light flipped on.”

Noah is now attending a mainstream preschool, and Kristen believes that he will not need any specialist education.

Rogers says of the pilot study and of the small, promising group of infants like Noah who participated,

“We are curing their developmental delays.”

The article goes on to say that the results  suggest that the progression of autism isn’t inevitable.

Kristen adds that she will never know if the study was responsible for  helping Noah to avoid developmental delays, she then says:

“If they could have had something like this for my other children, I think they would be completely different children today.”