Children who have ASD (autism spectrum disorders) benefit greatly from early intervention, showing better brain function as well as advances in their abilities to communicate and behave like other children, according to a new study conducted by Yale School of Medicine Researchers and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Fred Volkmar, M.D., Kevin A. Pelphrey, and their team have discovered that brains of children with autism respond well to an early treatment method called “pivotal response treatment”, a program geared toward helping the behavior of kids with ASD. The intervention requires parental involvement, as well as “play” situations.

Autism spectrum disorders are neurobiological conditions which hinder an individual’s capability to form social relationships and to communicate with others. They also often come with behavioral issues.

Before now, children were not being diagnosed with autism until around the ages of 3-5 years, therefore, intervention programs were aimed at this age group. However, now, Volkmar and his colleagues diagnose kids as early as one year old with autism.

The new technique, pivotal response treatment, which emerged at the University of California-Santa Barbara, incorporates learning and development factors and is easy to utilize with kids under the age of two years old.

For the first time, the new trial involved experts utilizing MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) to analyze alterations in brain activity when 2 to 5 year old children were given pivotal response treatment.

Using this strategy, Pamela Ventola, co-author of the study, recognized the individual behavioral objectives for each separate child involved in the trial. Then, the author fortified these goals with play-oriented activities. The MRI and electroencephalogram were able to detect higher levels of brain activity in the brain regions which are associated with social perception.

These findings were derived from only 2 kids. However, the experts are now performing the study on 60 children. Even though both children involved in the new study were given the same kind of intervention, the results were not identical because ASD inhibits every child differently and every child with the condition is unique.

Pelphrey concluded:

“ASD is a heterogeneous disorder, and research aimed at understanding treatment must address this heterogeneity. Both the children in our current study made progress, but their degree of progress and level of skills at the end of treatment were distinct.”

Volkmar added, “Autism research has come a long way. These findings are exciting because they show that early intervention works in autism.”

Another type of early intervention, called ESDM, or Early State Denver Model, has recently been proven effective for boosting language skills among children with autism around the age of 18 months.

Written by Christine Kearney