Sally Rogers of the University California, Davis, and her team worked for 12 weeks with seven babies showing clear signs of autism to see if they could eliminate symptoms of the disorder through a series of exercises, including one-hour coaching sessions where parents played and interacted with their infants, learning to read the baby’s cues. The goal of the exercises was to teach the babies to enjoy the rewards of social interaction. In the end, six out of seven of the children studied had normal learning and language skills by the time they reached age two to three.
Researchers say that because of the small number of children in their study, no definitive conclusions can be drawn, yet it’s a hopeful sign that by diagnosing autism very early children can be helped to rewire their brains and reverse the symptoms of autism.
Autism is becoming a more common diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 30 percent jump among 8-year-olds diagnosed with the disease in the last two years, up to one in every 68 children. That statistic reinforces the importance of knowing the signs and getting early help for your child if you believe he or she is affected. Early signs in infants include unusual visual fixations, abnormal repetitive behaviors, a lack of age-appropriate sounds including delayed development of vowel sounds like “ma-ma” and “da-da”, delayed communication and decreased efforts to gain parental attention, and a greater interest in objects than in people, leading to less interest in human interactions.
Autism symptoms range from a mild social impairment to profound inability to learn and communicate, and sometimes violent or unpredictable behavior. The CDC believes the high autism numbers reflect increased awareness and better diagnosis of kids who may have been missed in years past. Parents should pay attention to the signs, especially if their baby doesn’t babble, smile, or interact with others.