Can autism be stopped once it appears to be started? Yes, according to an Australian study, if parents are taught through video feedback how to best engage with their babies.
“We are helping parents fine-tune their parenting to the unique abilities of their baby,” says the study’s lead researcher.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.”
Autism rates have jumped dramatically in recent years. 1 in 54 American children are now identified with ASD, while the number was 1 in 5,000 back in 1975.
Typically, a child receives an autism diagnosis at about age 3 or 4. Until that time, the approach has been to closely observe babies showing early signs of emerging autistic behavior.
Researchers at the University of Western Australia wanted to try a different approach: to preempt the condition.
The Autism Pre-Emption Study
The study identified a group of one-year-old babies displaying autistic-like tendencies, such as difficulty having eye contact and not responding to their names.
For half the babies in the study group, the wait-and-see approach was used. Parents of the second group of babies underwent “preemptive” video feedback.
“We video parents interacting with their child and go back over the video with the parents frame by frame to help them understand all the beautiful ways their babies communicate,” explains Andrew Whitehouse, chief investigator of the Australian Infant Communication and Engagement Study (AICES).
“We took the approach that babies who are developing a bit differently aren’t getting the social enrichment around them that they require because they process the world in a different way.”
Among babies whose parents received the video feedback, 2 out of 3 did not have an autism diagnosis when they turned age 3.
In other words, reports Whitehouse, “The children who received the intervention were less likely to receive an autism diagnosis at age 3 compared to the children who didn’t receive intervention.”
Some are “Late Bloomers”
“We’re helping babies develop a feeling of being perceived and understood and so that they have a greater feeling of back and forth interactions…which are really the foundational building blocks of brain development,” reports Whitehouse.
In some cases, he says, babies in the study were simply “late bloomers.” “They were always going to be on a typical path. They’re just a little bit delayed at the moment so we have to have an intervention that is ethical to deliver to people who may not even need it.”
Increased face-to-face social interaction between babies and caregivers is also corrective for the newly-identified condition known as Virtual Autism.
In that case, toddlers begin to show autistic-like symptoms after months of daily exposure to hours of screen media.
When the media exposure is replaced with face-to-face talking, reading and 3-dimensional full-sensory non-electronic play, the children often return to a normal developmental path.
Parallels with Virtual Autism
As for the two conditions, “there is converging evidence, without a doubt,” Whitehouse says. “Babies require social enrichment to develop. This is not a good to have, this is a must have.”
The techniques taught during video feedback can be useful for any parent, Whitehouse points out.
“We’ve got a whole lot of whopping distractions that constantly compete for our attention. One of great things of this intervention is that is helps parents to slow down and to understand the wonder that they can experience when they see children through their own eyes.”
Watch the interview with Andrew Whitehouse:
Now that their findings have been replicated, Whitehouse and his team plan to share their techniques with early interventionists around the world.
To learn more about everyday brain-enrichment for babies, read this and check out the Durable U parenting course, “Supercharge the Brain and Language Power of Your Baby or Toddler.”
About the author:
Jenifer Joy Madden is the founder of DurableHuman.com. She is a Syracuse University adjunct professor of broadcast and digital media, a certified digital wellness instructor, and proud parent of three grownup practicing durable humans.