(HealthDay News) – For young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized brain activity patterns, which correlate with improvements in social behavior.

Geraldine Dawson, PhD, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues described secondary outcomes from a randomized trial involving 48 18- to 30-month-old children with ASD who were allocated to receive either the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) developmental behavioral intervention or referral to community intervention for two years. Electroencephalography activity was measured during the presentation of faces versus objects after the intervention, at age 48–77 months.

The researchers found that, compared with the community intervention groups, the ESDM group exhibited greater improvements in ASD symptoms, IQ, language, and adaptive and social behaviors. When viewing faces, shorter Nc latency and increased cortical activation (decreased α power and increased θ power) were seen with the ESDM group and with typical children. In contrast, the community intervention group showed the opposite pattern (shorter latency event-related potential and greater cortical activation when viewing objects). Improved social behavior correlated with greater cortical activation when viewing faces.

“In conclusion, the present study underscores the dynamic and plastic nature of early brain development in ASD and the potential of early intervention to alter the course of brain and behavioral development in young children with ASD and thereby promote the most positive long-term outcomes,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to a biomedical company and two authors receive royalties from a book on the ESDM.

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