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Autism Reversible with Early Intervention?
- Updated: September 9, 2014
Usually, Autism is not diagnosed until a child reaches three to four years of age but new research now suggests that both early detection and intervention could actually reverse this disorder and in some cases, eliminate symptoms altogether. Study results were just published, showing if a child receives appropriate treatment within the first six months of life, the outcome could be much different.
As shown from the research, signs of Autism substantially diminish or disappear altogether by the time an autistic child turns three, as long as therapy is provided in infancy. Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the study consisted of seven autistic babies between 7 and 15 months of age who showed signs of Autism. For 12 weeks, these infants were provided the necessary treatment and then followed up on three years later.
Children in the study diagnosed with Autism had clear signs of being autistic by nine months of age whereas those in the control group did not. Researchers discovered that at 18 and 36 months old, signs of the disorder had diminished greatly. In other words, the children who received intervention within the first six months of life displayed fewer autistic symptoms, as well as developmental and language delays.
According to Sally J. Rogers, lead author of the study and professor of psychiatry and developmental sciences at the University of California MIND Institute, six of the seven children involved with the study were back at normal range for learning and language skills. She goes on to say that most children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not even getting a proper diagnosis until two or three years old.
Director of infant and toddler services at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Lisa Shulman, adds that although the study was quite small, indications are revolutionary. With early intervention, an autistic child’s life can be dramatically changed.
She also believes that medical professionals, as well as entire families, fail to get an early diagnosis of Autism because of a misconception that infants in the first year of life with ASD do not show signs of having the disorder. Deviation from normal development escalates over time, making Autism obvious but while still very young, many children with autistic tendencies are hyper-focused on things and do have interest beyond social interaction.
In fact, according to Shulman, autistic babies often exhibit several of the same signs seen in children two to three years of age. Of these children, doctors put them in one of two groups, those with positive signs and those with negative signs for having Autism. If positive, a child would demonstrate unusual behaviors to include visual fixation. With this, an autistic child will focus on objects for long periods of time, often things that move.
Shulman continues by saying that repetitive interests are also seen in the children placed in the positive group. This includes opening and closing lids, tapping things, spinning, and so on. Although these behaviors can be seen in children who do not have Autism, when done in excess, they are often associated with the disorder.
However, Shulman also encourages parents to watch for negative signs of Autism as well. For instance, delayed language and motor skills would be indicators. Autistic children will often struggle with making gestures such as waving goodbye and they do not speak at a normal level.
The 12-week study performed by researchers helped identify signs of Autism in young babies but was also used to get parents to become more engaged. Experts agree that when it comes to the development of autistic children, it is the parents, not medical professionals who play a critical role. Although more research is needed, the University of California study is promising that autistic children can live a more normal life with earlier diagnosis and intervention.