Researchers Find First Signs of Autism Even in Infancy
Several Experiments that are helping researchers identify the signs of autism at earlier ages were presented at a recent conference at Columbia University's Teachers College.
Show the average 14-month-old baby a sealed jar of cookies, and you get some pretty predictable behavior. The child will reach for the treats and, when thwarted, look beseechingly at the nearest adult. The request for help — delivered with eye contact, gestures and often with pleading sounds — is unmistakable. But some babies don't do it.
Show the average 18-month-old a video of toddlers at play, and you can bet that the tot will be mesmerized by scenes with strong emotion: a fight or kiss. But some babies have other interests. At the Yale Child Study Center, psychologists Warren Jones, Ami Klin and Sarah Shultz measure when toddlers stop blinking — a reliable indicator of rapt attention. The typical child will stare at the scene of a kiss, but a child with autism will be transfixed by the opening and closing of a door.
Experiments like these, presented at a recent conference at
's Teachers College, are helping researchers identify the signs of autism at ever earlier ages. Columbia University
Several studies from across the country are looking at how to draw at-risk infants into the social world so that they will develop more normally. One National Institutes of Health–funded study, at the University of Washington, begins intervention for at-risk babies at 8 months, says Dawson, who adds, "What we are doing is teaching the parents how to structure interactions to promote eye contact and babbling." Parents learn, for example, to engage their babies in settings where there are few distractions so that facial expressions and language are more salient. They also learn strategies to calm infants who tend to become agitated and stressed by social activity. The intervention is playful in spirit, says
, adding, "Parents get very confident and are able to learn this quickly." The hope, she says, is that for some significant portion of children at risk, "we can begin before the full autism syndrome is present and prevent it from emerging." Dawson
The article "Researchers Find First Signs of Autism Even in Infancy" was published on May 4th, 2009 at "Time" magazine. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1895357,00.html
Published Tuesday, May. 5, 2009