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Earlier Treatment Greatly Benefits Children with Autism

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Researchers from the Yale School of Medicine recently discovered that, when provided earlier treatment, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) showed serious improvements in behavior, communication and brain function.

Fred Volkmar, MD, Kevin A. Pelphrey, and other researchers at the Yale Child Study Center published the study on early treatment, paving a way for brain change in autistic children. The findings were discussed in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The brain systems related to social perception had positive reaction to the pivotal response treatment, a kind of early intervention behavioral program that was developed at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Along with parent training, the treatment included a section just focused on play and includes areas for learning and development.

"ASD is a heterogeneous disorder, and research aimed at understanding treatment must address this heterogeneity," noted Pelphrey in the statement. "Both the children in our current study made progress, but their degree of progress and level of skills at the end of treatment were distinct."

Researchers explained how pivotal response treatment could help children as young as two years of age. In the study, they utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track changes in brain activity following pivotal response treatment for two five-year-olds with ASD. With the treatment, the scientists were able to determine specific behavioral goals for each participant in the study and then reinforce the distinct skills with treatment that included activities centered on motivational play.

Based on the findings, the children who participated in the treatment displayed improvements in behavior and were able to socialize with others. As well, the MRI and electroencephalogram showed that there was a boost in brain activity in the areas that were related to social perception. Even though the previous results were obtained from only two children, the scientists are currently conducting a study with 60 other participants. Each child received the same treatment for ASD, but the outcomes were not homogenous as ASD is a layered disorder that affects each individual in a different way.

The scientists believe that the study is a step forward in treatment planning. "Autism research has come a long way," explained Pelphrey in the statement. "These findings are exciting because they show that early intervention works in autism."

The research is useful for the medical community as ASDs are a growing issue in the country. A complex neurobiological disorder that limits an individual's communication and social skills, ASD provides behavioral challenges to family members. Treatment programs have targeted older children and autism diagnosis and, until recently, have focused on children when they are between the ages of three and five years of age.


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