A study published in the journal “Paediatrics” in November 2009, has shown evidence that an intensive early intervention program can inhibit the development of some autistic features in toddlers with autism.
Autism screening can be done at 18 months of age, and when deficits are seen at this age, intervention must begin as soon as possible.
Early intervention includes a variety of activities through play that will promote the development of various skills, and especially those skills that are found to be lacking in autism. These activities will be done by a therapist once or twice a week, usually, and need to be continued at home every day by the parents. Activities include language and communication activities including songs, rhymes and stories, task based activities as well as sensory activities to promote the development of the sensory integration system.
Parents are also taught about various behavior modification strategies and taught to implement them consistently. These can help the parents to teach positive skills to the child.
The study found that early intervention helped increase IQ scores, and even prevented some symptoms of autism from emerging.
However, the biggest barrier to provide early intervention to parents of children with autism is the late detection of the condition, and the emotional pressures faced by the parent. After all, no parent wants their child to be labeled as “autistic” wrongly. Parents tend to ignore, or look over initial signs of delay in language or social skills as the child being a “late bloomer” or “shy”. Parents also tend to categorize some of the behavior issues as the child being “naughty”. It is completely understandable, considering the stigma and the consequences of being diagnosed with autism. Even if the child is diagnosed, parents require time to accept the condition, and reach the stage of being involved in the child’s therapy. In this process, a lot of precious time can be lost.
So what is the solution? It may be to provide early intervention, even when a diagnosis has not been made. Parents can be taught activities and skills to help their child develop skills in area that they child has a delay. A couple of hours a day spent with the child to work on specific difficulties may go a long way. At the end of the day, if the child is perfectly normal, they would have just built a better relationship with their parents. Professionals too, must be willing to be open to teach parents to work with children, even when a diagnosis has not been made.
Thus, early intervention is important, and the earlier it is given, the better. Autism Research has proven it. Can we now apply it in practical life?
Access the full version of this study at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/peds.2009-0958v1
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Larry D. Moore, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baby_in_ball_pit.jpg