Intervention for Infants Displaying Autism Symptoms

Parents were able to successfully complete a low-intensity intervention for their infants who displayed autism spectrum disorder symptoms.

Symptoms of autism in infants can be alleviated, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of Autism and Development Disorders.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis MIND Institute studied 7 infants aged ­6-15 months for 6 weeks. The authors noted autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms can appear in infants as young as 6 months old, and usually appear by age 3 years. Infants who displayed symptoms of decreased eye contact, social interest, or engagement, repetitive movement patterns, and a lack of intentional communication were selected for the study.

The intervention was designed to increase parent-child interactions, parent imitation of infant sounds, and use of toys to support the child’s attention rather than detract. Parents were trained to focus on their children’s individualized development needs and interest and incorporate them into play and caretaking. They were instructed to creating pleasurable social routines, which would increase learning opportunities. Parents learned how to pick up on the babies’ subtle cues to gain the child’s attention and engagement. The parents retained their skills after treatment ceased.

“Most of the children in the study, 6 out of 7, caught up in all of their learning skills and their language by the time they were 2 to 3,” said study co-author Sally J. Rogers, PhD, in a press release. “Most children with ASD are barely even getting diagnosed by then. For the children who are achieving typical developmental rates, we are essentially ameliorating their developmental delays. We have speeded up their developmental rates and profiles, not for every child in our sample, but for 6 of the 7.”

The infants received scores on the Autism Observation Scale for Infants and the Infant-Toddler Checklist. The children had displayed more symptoms of ASD at age 9 months, but the symptoms scores were lower at 18-36 months of age. When compared to infants outside the intervention, the study group had less impairment for ASD diagnosis and reduced language and development delays.

The researchers plan to use larger, well-controlled studies in the future to test the viability of this intervention. The researchers note the significance of this study because of the age of the infants. The infants had displayed various ASD symptoms early in life and the intervention the parents used was a low intensity, so it could be carried out by parents anywhere.

“My goal is for children and adults with autism symptoms to be able to participate successfully in everyday life and in all aspects of the community in which they want to participate: to have satisfying work, recreation, and relationships, education that meets their needs and goals, a circle of people they love, and to be generally happy with their lives,” concluded Rogers, though she added, “I am not trying to change the strengths that people with ASD bring to this world.”