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Do Kids Beat Autism?

Kids benefit from early intervention and the right therapy.

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Can symptoms of autism go away? A recent pilot study out of UC Davis had success with six out of seven infants that were given very early treatment. The infants, age 6 months to 18 months, were identified by researchers as having ASD symptoms such as low eye contact, little interest in social engagement, repetitive movement patterns and a lack of intentional communication. The children’s parents were taught to use a therapy called Infant Start, which was administered during natural interactions throughout the day.

The study, “Autism treatment in the first year of life: A pilot study of Infant Start, a parent-implemented intervention for symptomatic infants,” co-authored by UC Davis professors of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Sally J. Rogers and Sally Ozonoff, is published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 

In a press release, Dr. Rogers said, “Most of the children in the study, six out of seven, caught up in all of their learning skills and their language by the time they were 2 to 3. Most children with ASD delays,” she said, “are barely even getting diagnosed by then.”

“Children who get services early get better outcomes,” said Dr. Tara Buck, assistant professor, Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at OU’s School of Community Medicine. “But there is a spectrum of severity. That can be frustrating about ASD. There’s no great way to know exactly what the child will need.”  

Dr. Buck was also quick to point out that the number of children involved in the UC Davis study was very small, and she noted the intense nature of the therapy the infants were receiving from their parents. It warrants more study.

“We’re getting better at recognizing ASD,” she said, “but most children don’t get diagnosed until age 4 or 5. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends screening at 18 months, 24 months and 30 months.” The screening tool most typically used for autism in toddlers is the M-CHAT. “Pediatricians are doing better at identifying children, so [that may be one reason] the rate seems to be going up. The current rate is 1 child in 68, according to the CDC.”

The child’s pediatrician is often the first person to identify ASD symptoms in children. “We look for developmental delays during well-child check-ups,” said Dr. Lamiaa Ali, M.D., assistant professor with OU Physicians and the Department of Pediatrics, OU School of Community Medicine. “We teach pediatric residents to look for red flags right after birth at 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months. For example, not babbling at 9 months, not gesturing or pointing or not responding to names.”

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