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Parent-Led Therapy Eases Autism Symptoms For Years, New Study Reports

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A form of therapy that allows parents to interact better with very young children with autism is highly beneficial years later, according to new research.

The therapy uses videos to give specific feedback to parents, and was shown to reduce symptoms of severe autism in children, up until some reached the age of 11, NBC News reports.

The team, comprised of researchers from the University of Manchester, King’s College London and Newcastle University, say this is the first approach to actually work and show long-term advantages. They wrote, “To our knowledge, this study is the first study to report long-term symptom outcomes to middle childhood (7-11 years) following a randomized controlled trial of early intervention in young children.”

Jonathan Green of the University of Manchester and lead researcher, says,

This type of early intervention is distinctive in being designed to work with parents to help improve parent-child communication at home.

He explains, “This is not a ‘cure’, in the sense that the children who demonstrated improvements will still show remaining symptoms to a variable extent, but it does suggests that working with parents to interact with their children in this way can lead to improvements in symptoms over the long-term.”

The researchers tested 152 children ages two to four in a study called the Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT), which started six years ago. Some of the children completed the treatments, which involved recording the child and parent’s interactions on video.

Green says the parents then sat down with therapists to work on interpreting the child’s indirect and unusual communication methods. “Behind the unusualness, what the child is actually intending to communicate is often just like any other child,” Green writes.

Parents received 12 therapy sessions for six months, six months more of monthly support sessions, and were asked to play and communicate with their kids for 20-30 minutes. In this manner, Green notes that parents learned to respond to their child’s communication methods, which in turn led to happier kids.

The therapy showed positive results early on, and the effects lasted a long time. Kids whose parents completed the therapy training showed better social communication and decreased their repetitive behavior, compared to those who received standard autism treatment.

Green says, “The advantage of this approach over a direct therapist-child intervention is that it has potential to affect the everyday life of the child.” However, Tony Charman of King’s College London, says they were not able to address all aspects, such as mental health, anxiety or difficult behavior. The researchers suggest that “additional interventions may be needed” for these.

Autism spectrum disorder covers a broad range of conditions, from the milder Asperger’s to stunted development. Symptoms often overlap with other conditions like learning disabilities or attention deficit/hyperactivity.

In the USA, a government survey found that over 2% of children ages three and older have been diagnosed with autism – 1 in 45 kids.

The causes for autism seem to be both environmental and genetic. There is no cure, but researchers have been finding bits and pieces of therapies that can help both children and parents.

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