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Early Intervention In Autism

June 3, 2013

A key factor in the treatment of any disease or disorder its early detection. With any range of maladies, from a simple headache to full-blown cancer, the sooner a diagnosis is known, the sooner you can implement treatment. The same holds true for autism. I've discussed aspects of autism before, and it has always been my feeling that early, individualized, intensive intervention, is the one of the most important treatments for the disorder. It can mean the difference between a positive outcome and a not so positive one. Luckily, it appears there are some promising techniques in the works that might help in this process.

Autism Outcome Detection

Recent studies out of the University of Washington suggest that it is possible to predict the outcomes of children with Autism as young as 2-years-old. The research focused on the brain signals produced when the toddlers were exposed to both familiar and unfamiliar words and then revisited them at ages 4 and 6 to study their outcomes.

Children with less severe outcomes were shown to have better outcomes overall in language and cognition. The brain scans performed during the initial test seemed to suggest that children with less severe outcomes were able to process the words spoken to them in a similar manner to those without autism. These results are hopeful, as a test such as this would be invaluable in creating a personal approach to instruction. However, the researchers do warn that they are years from determining any such markers in the brain.

Importance of Intervention

At the moment, there are no medications that treat the core symptoms of autism. There are some that treat outlying symptoms, but the best course of action is early intervention. Early intervention is extremely important for children with autism, as it provides them with the best possible chance of a positive outcome. Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, believes that the development of even the simplest of speech skills before the age of 2 a far more likely to overcome autism. She goes on to say that, "One third make incredible progress, with almost all children making real gains, even if they continue to have significant difficulties."

I should mention, however, that any intervention is helpful, regardless of age. The brain is amazing flexible and capable of learning new skills at any age. There is no cut off age or limit, only the energy and dedication of those trying to teach the skills. I have personally seen a 19-year-old with autism go from being completely nonverbal and having major behavioral outbursts, to being much calmer and actually using words to make requests in the course of a couple years. Major improvements, such as this are possible at a later age, but are definitely better if undertaken earlier on.

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