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Program for 1-Year-Olds Tries to Lessen Autism's Impact

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FRIDAY, Feb. 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Parents of 1-year-olds who appear to be at risk for autism can take simple steps to help them improve, a new study says.

Researchers identified 18 families with 1-year-old children with possible signs of autism. At this age, full-blown symptoms of autism are not yet evident, the researchers explained.

Children who develop an autism spectrum disorder display persistent deficits in social communication and interaction and engage in limited, repetitive patterns of activity, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. About one in 68 U.S. children is thought to have the disorder.

"Each child has different strengths and weaknesses, so the intervention is individualized to the needs of the child, and necessarily varies across families," said study lead author Grace Baranek, an autism researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For example, some 1-year-olds at risk for autism do not respond when someone calls their name, tries to show them something interesting, or attempts back-and-forth games such as peek-a-boo.

With the home-based intervention the researchers call Adapted Responsive Teaching (ART), a parent imitates the child's actions and communications, causing the child to start to interact in order to see if the parent will repeat the imitations.

This enables the parent to keep the child engaged in several back-and-forth social exchanges at a time, the researchers explained.

"'Imitate your child' is just one example of an ART intervention strategy that is targeted to address one of 12 pivotal behaviors in our study," Baranek said in a university news release.

The researchers found that this strategy of early intervention can lead to significant improvements in 1-year-olds at risk for autism, according to the study recently published in the journal Autism Research and Treatment.

Doctors usually don't screen for autism before 18 to 24 months of age, the researchers said in background notes with the study, explaining that early diagnosis and treatment is essential.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

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