A first-of-its-kind study finds that intervention for infants showing signs of autism can dramatically reduce symptom severity and lessen the chance that a child will later be diagnosed.

Infants showing signs of autism who received just 10 sessions of intervention were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with the developmental disorder by age 3, researchers say.

The findings come from a study published this week in the journal JAMA Pediatrics looking at 103 children ages 9 to 14 months, all of whom exhibited behavioral signs known to be associated with a later diagnosis of autism.

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Researchers assigned 53 of the kids to receive typical care recommended by health professionals in their community while the others participated in 10 sessions of a video feedback intervention called BASIS–Video Interaction to Promote Positive Parenting, or iBASIS-VIPP.

“The therapy uses video feedback to help parents understand and appreciate the unique abilities of their baby, and to use these strengths as a foundation for future development,” said Andrew Whitehouse of the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia who led the study. “By doing so, this therapy was able to support their later social engagement and other autistic-related behaviors such as sensory behaviors and repetitiveness, to the point that they were less likely meet the ‘deficit-focused’ diagnostic criteria for autism.”

The children were assessed at the beginning of the study and then again when they finished the therapy period and when they reached ages 2 and 3.

Researchers found that kids who participated in the intervention showed lower symptom severity across early childhood and they were two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with autism at age 3.

“No trial of a preemptive infant intervention, applied prior to diagnosis, has to date shown such an effect to impact diagnostic outcomes — until now,” Whitehouse said.

The researchers said that additional follow up with the children in the study as they age will be needed to more fully assess the impact of the video intervention.

Autism experts have long pushed for early identification of children on the spectrum arguing that intervention is most successful the sooner it begins. Nonetheless, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the median age of autism diagnosis is greater than age 4 even though the condition can be reliably identified by age 2.

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