Therapy with babies boosts social development, reducing clinical diagnosis of autism by two-thirds

Professor Green said: “These results are the first evidence that preventive intervention in early childhood could lead to such significant improvement in the social development of children that they subsequently fell below the threshold for clinical diagnosis of autism.

“MAll autism therapies have previously attempted to replace developmental differences with more “typical” behaviors. In contrast, iBASIS-VIPP works with each child’s unique differences and creates a social environment around the child that helps them learn in a way that works best for them.

“The therapy uses video feedback to help parents understand and appreciate their baby’s unique abilities, and use those strengths as a foundation for future development.

“In doing so, this therapy was able to support their later social engagement and other autism-related behaviors such as sensory behaviors and repetitiveness, to the point that they were less likely meet the “deficit-oriented” diagnostic criteria for autism. This is the first proof that preventive intervention during infancy could lead to such significant improvement.

“Children falling below the diagnostic threshold still had developmental difficulties, but bBy working with each child’s unique differences, rather than trying to counter them, the therapy effectively supported their development throughout early childhood.

Professor Green added: With this therapy, we provide support before a diagnosis is made – and parents overwhelmingly want this. The result is consistent with previous results, which increases our confidence in the reality of the results. This evidence could have a massive impact on clinical practice and public health – not that many clinical trials have such potential.

The four-year randomized clinical trial recruited babies aged 9-14 months to study the impacts of iBASIS-VIPP. All the babies had shown early behavioral signs of autism. Over a five-month period, half received the video intervention, while a control group received the current best practice treatment.

Eighty-nine the children completed an assessment at the start of the study, at the end of the treatment period and when they were two and three years old. Identification, assessments and interventions took place in Perth as part of a collaboration between Telethon Kids and the Child Development Service, part of the Child and Adolescent Health Service, and in Melbourne at La Trobe University, led by Associate Professor Kristelle Hudry.

Prof Whitehouse said given the high prevalence of autism around the world, the implications of the findings were huge. In Australia, about 2% of all children have an autism diagnosis.

“Autism is not usually diagnosed until the age of three, however, with interventions beginning in the first two years of life, when the first signs of developmental difference are observed and the brain is developing rapidly , may have an even greater impact on developmental outcomes in later childhood,” Professor Whitehouse said.

This is a real turning point for child health research. Our goal is to understand each child’s strengths and challenges so that we can better support and nurture the unique abilities they bring to this world.

“This is an important step forward in what we hope will be an opportunity to develop new clinical models that use very early intervention in babies with early behavioral signs of autism.”

Professor Whitehouse said following up study participants later in childhood, when autistic behaviors may be more apparent, would be key to determining the longer-term importance of the video intervention.

Collaborating institutions included La Trobe University, University of Western Australia, Western Australian Child and Adolescent Health Service, Griffith University, University of South Australia, University of Manchester UK United, Evelina London Children’s Hospital., Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust UK.

The complete paper Effect of preventive intervention on developmental outcomes of infants with early signs of autism: a randomized clinical trial from results to diagnosis can be read here.

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Joel C. Hicks