A small study has shown promising results for the effectiveness of parental interventions for infants showing early signs of autism.
Researchers from the University of California Davis MIND Institute pilot-tested a 12-week program, called Infant Start, in which they taught parents techniques to use on their seven infants ages six months to 15 months who had symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These symptoms included decreased eye contact and social engagement, abnormal repetitive behaviors, visual fixation on objects, a lack of age-appropriate phonemic development, and a lack of intentional communication.
Therapists worked with the parents for almost five months on parent-child interactions and provided coaching as needed to increase infant attention, communication, early language development, play, and social engagement. For instance, to work with children visually fixated on an object, parents engaged in a social game where they took turns with their child playing with a toy, shifting attention from the object to the parent. To increase engagement and interaction, parents engaged in joint activities with the child, eliciting communicative gestures, vocalizations, and behaviors. To maximize social attention, parents interacted face-to-face with the child and provided object and social games that the child preferred. The parents then continued to use the skills they learned after treatment ended. Children received follow-up assessments at 15, 18, 24, and 36 months.
By age three, those infants that had undergone treatment had much lower rates of both autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays than a comparison group with autism symptoms that did not enroll in the treatment study. (Rogers SJ et al, J Autism Dev Disord 2014; online ahead of print).
CCPR’s Take: The results are promising, but given the sample size of only seven infants, we can’t draw any clear conclusions yet. The effectiveness of the treatment needs further study in a larger, randomized controlled trial.