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By Cara Murez
Health Day reporter

WEDNESDAY, September 22, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Infants may show early signs of autism, but a diagnosis is usually not made until they are 3 years old. Now, a new study suggests that starting treatment could prevent this diagnosis altogether.

Researchers say their parent-led preventive intervention could have a significant impact on children’s social development and long-term disabilities.

“What we found was that the babies who received our therapy had reduced behaviors that we use to diagnose autism. And, in fact, the therapy was so effective in supporting their development, that the babies who did. had received the therapy were less likely to meet clinical criteria for autism, ”said study author Andrew Whitehouse. He is professor of autism research at the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia.

The four-year randomized trial, supervised by Telethon Kids, included 104 babies in Australia, aged 9 months to 14 months. Most were followed up to the age of 3. All had shown behavioral signs of autism, which may include reduced eye contact and less gestural communication.

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

By the time the children were 3 years old, when a diagnosis could be made, the researchers found that autism was a third as likely in children who had received the new therapy, with 7% meeting the criteria for a autism diagnosis in the intervention group compared to 21% in the other group.

These children still had developmental difficulties, but the therapy supported their development by working with, rather than trying to counteract, their unique development, according to the study authors.

By using this approach, “we’ve reduced the level of disability to the point that they don’t get diagnosed. What we can absolutely expect or hope for is that these disability reductions will ultimately translate into what they can achieve in their education, in their jobs and in their day-to-day lives ”, Whitehouse said.

This is by no means a cure for autism, nor a goal they believe in, Whitehouse said.

Many therapies attempt to replace developmental differences with more “typical” behaviors. Instead, this new therapy tried 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 an increased sensitivity to their baby’s unique communication. The researchers also found an increase in language development reported by parents.

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

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

Children are often born with small differences in the way they treat the world, but those small differences can create bigger disabilities later, Whitehouse explained.

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

The researchers plan to follow these children until they are 6 or 7 years old to get better confirmation of the results, published on September 20 in JAMA Pediatrics.

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

“It is impressive that this low-intensity intervention showed a decrease in the number of children with a clinical diagnosis of ASD at age 3 in the intervention group compared to the control group, although the impact on multiple developmental and parental outcomes was not as significant. “Chen said.” It is also impressive that these differences in ASD symptoms continued over the two-year study period. “

Chen, who was not in the study, said she found it interesting that families in the control group were involved in more community-based therapy programs than families in the intervention group, but than those in the intervention group. ‘always come out better overall.

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 do the perfect study in an initial study,” Chen said. “I don’t want to take anything away from this study because it’s a very, very good study and it has a lot of strengths.”

More information

The Baby Navigator website has more information on the stages of child development.

SOURCES: Andrew Whitehouse, PhD, Angela Wright Bennett, autism research professor, Telethon Kids and University of Western Australia and director, CliniKids, Nedlands, Western Australia; Victoria Chen, MD, Behavioral Development Pediatrician, Cohen Children’s Medical Center and Assistant Professor, Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra / Northwell, Uniondale, NY; JAMA Pediatrics, September 20, 2021

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