The early introduction of behavioral interventions for autistic children can significantly improve a child’s adaptive social abilities, cognitive skills, language interactions and attention capacity, according to an Oct. 4 panel discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Age-appropriate, fun and daily activities between parents and autistic children can help form positive relationships through exercises such as one that teaches autistic children how to focus on faces and objects, said Geraldine Dawson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.
Autism detection early in life opens the door to such intensive training by therapists and parents using the Early Start Denver Model – an approach that exposes autistic children aged 18 to 30 months to regular interpersonal exchanges and activities, noted Dawson. The practice has been shown to produce behavioral improvements and enhanced learning abilities.
Dozens of follow-up studies have since confirmed the gains of early interventions, she said, including one that found six-year-olds who had undergone intensive interactions held on to the advances. Overall, the six-year-old subjects retained advanced IQ levels, presented more adaptive behavior and demonstrated fewer symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, she said.
After tracing the cost of autism as it mounts and spreads over a lifetime due to ongoing medical, therapeutic, behavioral and learning interventions and adult services, Dawson cited research finding early intensive intervention has been shown to reduce such costs by $19,000 a year.
The lecture was the final in the Neuroscience & Society lecture series presented through a partnership between AAAS and the Dana Foundation that has offered some two dozen public lectures since June 2012. The sessions have explored topics including the aging brain, meditation, the opioid epidemic, sleep and dreaming, video games and the science of lying.
The final lecture also featured presentations by Dr. Daniel H. Geschwind, director of the Center for Autism Research and Treatment at the University of California, Los Angles and Janine La Salle, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of California, Davis. The panel discussion was moderated by Dr. Barry Gordon, a therapeutic cognitive neuroscience professor at Johns Hopkins Medicine.