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By intervening in childhood, some cases of autism can be prevented

By Cara Murez
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, 22 SEPTEMBER 2021 (HealthDay News) – Babies can show early signs of autism, but a diagnosis is usually made only at the age of 3. Now a new study indicates that the start of therapy may completely withhold the diagnosis.

Researchers say that their preventative, parent-led intervention can have a significant impact on children’s social development and long-term disabilities.

‘What we found was that the babies we received therapy had less behavior that we were used to diagnose autism. And the therapy was actually so effective in supporting their development, that the infants who received the therapy were less likely to meet clinical criteria autism, “says study author Andrew Whitehouse. He is a professor of autism research at the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia.

The four-year randomized trial, under the supervision of Telethon Kids, included 104 babies in Australia, ranging from 9 months to 14 months. Most were followed up to age 3. All showed signs of autism, which may include reduced eye contact and less gesture communication.

Half of the participants received the typical autism therapies. The other half received a 10-session intervention using video feedback, which the parents record with the baby so parents can watch it later and see how their baby communicates. Both groups went through the sessions for five months.

By the time the children were 3, when a diagnosis could be made, researchers found that autism was a third more likely than in children receiving the new therapy, with 7% meeting the criteria for an autism diagnosis in the intervention group 21% in the other group.

The children still had developmental problems, but the therapy supported their development by working with their unique development, instead of trying to resist, according to the authors of the study.

Using this approach, “we have reduced the level of disability to the point that they do not receive a diagnosis. What we can absolutely expect or hope is that this reduction in disability will translate into the real, real, longer – term outcomes in terms of what they can achieve in their education, in their work and in their daily lives, ”Whitehouse said.

It’s by no means a cure for autism, nor is it a goal they believe in, Whitehouse said.

Many therapies try to replace developmental differences with more ‘typical’ behaviors. Rather, this new therapy sought to work with each child’s unique differences to create a social environment that would work for that child, the researchers said.

Parents have developed a greater sensitivity to the unique communication of their baby. The researchers also saw an increase in language development reported by parents.

“The goal of therapy is to help parents observe, reflect, and change the way they treat their child,” Whitehouse said.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. According to the study, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may include disabilities in social interaction and communication and repetitive behaviors. In the United States, about 1 in 54 children has autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children are often born with small differences in the way they process the world, but these small differences can later cause greater disabilities, Whitehouse explains.

“Parent-child interaction is by no means a cause of autism. Absolutely not,” Whitehouse said. “What we are saying is that parents are the most prominent and important people in their children’s lives, and that they can play such a powerful role in supporting their development.”

Researchers plan to follow these children up to 6 or 7 years old to get greater confirmation of the findings, published on September 20 JAMA Pediatrics.

The study is exciting for several reasons, said dr. Victoria Chen, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, said.

‘It is impressive that this low-intensity intervention shows a decrease in the number of children with a clinical diagnosis ASD at the age of three in the intervention group versus the control group, although the impact on various developmental and parental outcomes was not as significant, “Chen said. It is also impressive that these differences in symptoms of ASD on the two-year study period. “

Chen, who was not part of the study, said she found it interesting that families in the control group participated in more community-based therapeutic programs than the families in the intervention group, but those in the intervention group still performed better.

To confirm the research, Chen said she would like to see a larger study with a more diverse sample of participants.

“It’s hard to make the perfect study in an initial study,” Chen said. “I do not want to take away from this study because it is a very, very good study and has very strong points.”

More information

The Baby Navigator website has more information children’s developmental milestones.

SOURCES: Andrew Whitehouse, PhD, Angela Wright Bennett Professor of Autism Research, Telethon Kids and University of Western Australia and Director, CliniKids, Dutch, Western Australia; Victoria Chen, MD, Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician, Cohen Children’s Medical Center and Assistant Professor, Zucker School of Medicine in Hofstra / Northwell, Uniondale, NY; JAMA Pediatrics, 20 September 2021

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