Treatment at the earliest age of marked autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms can significantly lower Autism Observation Scale for Infants (AOSI) scores by age 3, reports a new study. The findings were published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Developed by researchers at the University of California-Davis and based on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), the Infant Start treatment was administered over a six-month period to seven 6–15 month-old infants who exhibited marked ASD symptoms (including decreased eye contact, social interest or engagement, repetitive movement patterns, and a lack of intentional communication). In the study, parents were taught to concentrate their interactions on supporting their infants’ individualized needs and interests while utilizing these practices in all play and caretaking. The intervention was focused on increasing infant attention to parent faces and voices, parent-child interactions that attract infants’ attention, bringing smiles and delight to both, parent imitation of infant sounds and intentional actions, and parent use of toys to support, instead of compete with, the child’s social attention.

RELATED: Common Gene Variants Linked to Autism

The 12 one-hour treatment sessions consisted of greeting and parent progress sharing, a warm-up period of parent play followed by discussion of the activity and intervention goal, discussion of a new topic using a parent manual, parents interacting in a typical daily routine with their child while fostering social engagement, communication, and appropriate play with coaching from therapists, and parents practicing the approach with their child across one or two additional home routines with toys or caregiving activities. Treatment was initiated immediately after study enrollment and was followed by a 6-week maintenance period with biweekly visits and follow-up assessments at 24 and 36 months.

Compared to the control group of similarly symptomatic infants, children who received the intervention had significantly greater ASD symptoms at 9 months but significantly lower ASD severity scores at 18–36 months.

To confirm these findings, larger, well-controlled studies are needed but the initial findings are promising due to the very young ages of the infants and the number of symptoms and delays they exhibited early in life, state the authors.

For more information visit