A recent study from UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, California, has found that treating the earliest symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infants as young as six months old has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms so that by age three, most children who received the treatment showed no signs of ASD or developmental delay. In the pilot project, seven infants from six- to 15-months-old received treatment, called Infant Start, over a six-month period. These infants, who showed obvious symptoms of autism (see below), received treatment from their parents—the people closest and most in tune with them.
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Of those seven, six caught up in all of their learning skills and language by the time they were two or three years old, according to Sally J. Rogers, the study’s lead author and developer of Infant Start. Kids diagnosed with autism typically receive treatment around three to four years—six to eight times later than the children followed in the study—but the earliest symptoms of autism may show up before a baby’s first birthday, according to UC Davis. Social interaction and communication is learned during infancy, so autism researchers and parents of kids with autism have been working to spot it and treat it sooner. UC Davis Mind Institute identifies these five early signs of autism in infants:
1. Unusual visual fixations: strong and persistent examination of objects
2. Abnormal repetitive behaviours: spending unusually long periods of time repeating an action, such as looking at their hands or rolling an object
3. Lack of age-appropriate sound development: delayed development of vowel sounds such as “ma-ma, da-da, ta-ta”
4. Delayed intentional communication: neutral facial tones and decreased efforts to gesture and gain parent attention
5. Decreased interest in interaction: greater interest in objects than people and difficult to sustain face-to-face interactions
The treatment had parents using their daily moments—like diapering, feeding, playing on the floor, going for walks—to start interventions focused on increasing infants’ attention to parents’ faces and voices; interactions with parents that attracted infants’ attention, bringing smiles and delight to both; parents’ imitation of their infant’s sounds and intentional actions; and parents’ use of toys to support rather than compete with the infant’s attention.
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