A new pilot study suggests that signs of autism symptoms can be erased if babies begin therapy even before they can toddle.
Researchers have long taken the “earlier the better” approach to treatment, but this tiny study – in just seven children – is the first to look at starting therapy in the first year of life.
The research, run by the University of California Davis’ MIND Institute, provided directed therapy to babies ages 6-9 months old who were identified as having early signs of autism, such as an inability to make eye contact, lack of babbling and fixations.
By the time the seven babies reached their third birthday – a time when autism can reliably be diagnosed – five didn’t show any autism symptoms and a sixth had only mild symptoms.
The treatment now needs to be tried in many more children to make sure that it can be consistently helpful, said study co-author Sally Rogers, a professor and developmental psychologist at UC Davis.
“It doesn’t prove that these children recovered from autism,” Rogers said, because they were too young to be diagnosed with the condition. But “it’s a promise of a potential treatment for young children who have these symptoms.”
It’s not clear, Rogers said, whether the early treatment is better than therapy now generally offered for 3- and 4-year-olds. But it may be that focusing on teaching language to babies at a time when they would normally be learning to speak, for example, will prove more effective than catching children up later, she said.
It’s way too soon to declare this kind of therapy a “cure” or even a treatment for autism, said Deborah Fein, a child neuropsychologist at the University of Connecticut, who has researched older children whose autism symptoms disappeared.
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SOURCE: USA Today – Karen Weintraub