A new study
funded by Autism Speaks and the Ireland Family Foundation suggests parents can use a relatively simple set of strategies to improve social, communication, and sensory abilities in one-year-olds at risk for autism.
At present, screening methods can identify developmental delays in toddlers that may signal increased risk of autism, but the disorder can’t be reliably diagnosed before 24 months.
Advocates are convinced that the early identification of autism promises parents a great opportunity to improve outcomes by providing practical interventions.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina used a screening questionnaire called the First Year Inventory
to identify eighteen 1-year-olds as “at risk” for autism. They referred five families to early intervention services including speech, physical, and occupational therapy, and the other 11 families received an experimental, home-based intervention known as Adapted Responsive Teaching or ART.
Researchers designed ART to stimulate “pivotal” behaviors like social play, shared attention, and adaptability that provide a foundation for more advanced social, communication, and sensory skills.
Weekly for six months, therapists met with each family for a one-hour home visit to teach parents how to use the program’s interactive strategies in their daily routines.
Researchers assessed the development of the 18 children at the start of the trial, at six months, and at 20 months. Over the course of the trial, children in the ART group made significantly greater progress than those receiving the early intervention services only.
The National Center for Special Education Research took notice of the promising results of the study and awarded the research team with a $2.5 million grant to expand their study to include more than 100 families. (Recruitment is complete.)