Parent-Led Intervention May Lower Kids’ Autism Risk
Training parents to enhance social interactions with their infant children may reduce the likelihood that kids at risk for autism will ultimately develop the disorder, researchers say.
Families who participated in a video-based therapy program were able to improve engagement, attention and social behavior in their babies, according to findings published Wednesday in The Lancet Psychiatry.
“Our findings indicate that using video feedback-based therapy to help parents understand and respond to their infant’s individual communication style during the first year of life may be able to modify the emergence of autism-related behaviors and symptoms,” said Jonathan Green, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester in England who led the study.
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Researchers looked at 54 families with infants considered to be at high risk of autism because they all had an older sibling on the spectrum. Of the children — ages 7 to 10 months — 27 participated in a video-based intervention while the others did not receive any treatment.
Over the course of five months, families in the intervention group received six or more home visits from a therapist who videotaped interactions between moms and dads and their babies and then coached parents to better understand and respond to their child’s cues.
At the conclusion, children whose families participated in the training showed fewer autism-related behaviors on a standardized assessment than kids who received no intervention, the study found.
Researchers said the therapy could help reduce a child’s risk for autism, but indicated that further study involving a larger group of kids would be needed to confirm their results.
In an accompanying commentary, Catherine Lord from the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York said the findings show promise.
“(The study) offers the possibility of providing a focused low-intensity intervention on the basis of risk, without the need to identify a specific condition such as autism spectrum disorder,” Lord wrote. “Because siblings of children with autism are at risk for a broader array of difficulties than only autism, this intervention allows a way to provide services that directly address their needs without having to make very early decisions about diagnosis.”
Researchers are increasingly focusing on younger children in hopes of identifying and treating autism earlier in order to mitigate long-term symptoms. Another small study last year looking at children as young as 6 months who were showing signs of the developmental disorder also suggested that targeted intervention in babies could reduce the likelihood of diagnosis down the line.