Autism study finds early intervention has lasting effects

Posted on March 14, 2018

The idea behind early intervention therapies for autism is that there is a greater chance for positive effects, given that symptoms are not as severe and the brain is at an earlier stage of development. Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester and his colleagues launched the Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT) to test those assumptions. They enrolled 152 children with autism, many of them with severe symptoms of the disorder and similar scores on measure of autism symptom severity. About half of the children were randomly assigned to receive an intervention; the other half served as a control.

Twice a month for six months, parents watched videos of their interactions with their children. A therapist paused the video periodically to discuss methods that parents could use to better engage their children and bolster their communication skills. The parents received more support sessions for the next six months, and agreed to do about half an hour of planned activities with their children each day throughout the year.

Six years after the adults completed the year-long course, their children showed better social communication and reduced repetitive behaviours, and fewer were considered to have “severe” autism as compared to a control group, according to results published on 25 October in The Lancet1. On a scale that indicates autism severity, scores were lower in children whose families had received the training: 7.3 versus 7.8 in children who had not received the intervention. Among those in the intervention group, 46% were considered to have “severe” autism. That proportion was 63% in the untreated children.

It was evident that therapy benefited communication skills and decreased repetitive behaviours, but it did not lessen childrens' anxiety — another key symptom of autism. This underscores the necessity for higher-impact interventions for autism.

Category(s):Autism spectrum disorders

Source material from Nature

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