Changing the Developmental Trajectory for Infants with Autism

A diagnosis of autism changes lives.  The future a parent may have pictured for their child, for their family, is quickly reduced to the day to day attempts to grapple with this painful and baffling condition.  While currently a reliable diagnosis cannot be made before the age of 2, a network of scientists across North America have created a study to look for signs of autism as early as 6 months.

This would be of great benefit to the thousands of children who each year are found to have autism.  A experimental treatment has been created called Infant Start which is intended to address the social environment the baby grows up in, and to see whether changes at home might alter the biological development of the condition.  It is based on a daily therapy, the Early Start Denver Model, that uses games and pretend play to engage toddlers with autism.  This therapy has been shown in randomized trials to significantly improve I.Q., language and social skills in these children, and researchers say it has even greater potential if it can be started earlier.

“What you ultimately might be doing is preventing a certain proportion of autism from ever emerging,” said David Mandell, the associate director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  “I’m not saying you’re curing these kids, but you may be changing their developmental trajectory enough by intervening early enough that they never go on to meet criteria for the disorder.  And you can’t do that if you keep waiting for the full disorder to emerge.”

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